Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) sets out certification, licensing and regulatory standards for aircraft charter operators. Companies certified under Part 135 either operate aircraft with 1-9 passengers or 10 to 30 passengers.

Carriers and operators under Part 135 include operators serving small communities, as well as crucial medical flights and charter pilots providing private transportation for business purposes or However, as with other FAA regulations, Part 135 is not always easy to navigate for those in the industry. Common difficulties and issues encountered include:

Illegal Charters—Operating Outside the Law

Pilots and companies sometimes offer unregulated charter flights for passengers and cargo without being certified under Part 135. In fact, some pilots or smaller operations may do so without being aware that they are breaking the law—possibly even by offering flights without charging for their time.

The regulations for non-commercial pilots, Part 91 of the FAR, do not require the time-consuming paperwork and expensive compliance that Part 135 does. Nevertheless, Part 135 maintains essential safety procedures and requirements for the general public. Pilots or companies who “hold themselves out to the public” as offering air service “for compensation or hire” must be certified under Part 135. The FAA has very specific interpretations for each of these phrases, and any pilot with the slightest doubt about whether a flight is acceptable must seek advice.

Pulling Through the Certification Process

Applications for Part 135 certification take place in five phases:

  • Preapplication. The applicant submits a Preapplication Statement of Intent (PASI) to their local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). They then attend a meeting at the FSDO with the team assigned to oversee their application.
  • Formal application. The applicant must submit a formal letter, together with various required materials, including company manuals, ownership documents, leases, and management qualifications.
  • Design assessment. The company’s manuals and qualifications will be assessed for compliance.
  • Performance assessment. The FSDO team conducts observation and testing of the applicant’s procedures, such as training and flight checks.
  • Administrative functions. If the team is satisfied with the application, the observations, and the applicant, the FAA will complete the process by issuing the Part 135 certificate and the operation specifications (OpSpecs).

Unfortunately, this process may take years to complete. An experienced aviation attorney can assist by helping to assemble and create documentation and materials with the necessary level of detail, as well as serving as a liaison with the FSDO when necessary.

In certain cases, it may be possible to avoid the necessity for a new certificate application by purchasing an existing Part 135 entity and seeking an amendment for the certificate. Again, it is essential to seek the assistance of an attorney who can structure the transaction properly and work with the FSDO on the amendment process.

Regulatory and OpSpecs Compliance

A Part 135 certificate holder must remain compliant with their OpSpecs and with the current regulations. The FAR and their interpretations may change due to policy shifts in the FAA or in Congress, and it is not always easy to understand what is necessary or to comply with it when it is.

One example of a “live issue” in Part 135 compliance is the rest and duty law for crewmembers. To avoid crew fatigue, the FAR has specific requirements for rest periods, varying according to the type of operations and the number of assigned crew. These regulations are challenging to follow and can be skirted, which may result in dangerous levels of fatigue. There is currently a movement to update these regulations, so they may change in the future.

Other regulations that impact the work of Part 135 certificate holders include:

  • Qualifications and experience for crew
  • Pilot recordkeeping requirements
  • Inspections and maintenance requirements
  • Hazardous materials training

OpSpecs requirements may also be unclear to a Part 135 operator where they appear to conflict with regulations or with conditions frequently encountered. An aviation compliance attorney can assist by determining the latest FAA guidelines or, if necessary, reaching out for formal or informal guidance from the agency. This can allow Part 135 operators to avoid the stress and expense of violations.

Tax Implications

Part 135 businesses can encounter a confusing variety of tax vulnerabilities, such as

  • Federal excise tax (FET) on commercial flights
  • Aviation fuel taxes (non-commercial FET)
  • State tax exposure (fuel taxes, excise taxes, and more)
  • Depreciations and losses—when do they qualify?

To minimize avoidable payments and maximize credits, a Part 135 business should consult an aviation attorney who can advise on the tax consequences of their operations. As with other regulations, tax advice can change with policy shifts and new advisories from the IRS.

Aero Law Center is ready to help you with any issues your business may encounter with Part 135. Whether you need—

  • advice on which operations your current certificate covers
  • assistance with a new or ongoing application
  • guidance on compliance or personnel issues
  • representation in proceedings with the NTSB and FAA

—we will be glad to talk to you. Call our Fort Lauderdale, Florida office at 954-869-8950 to schedule a free initial consultation.