SkyWest Charter (CW, St. George Municipal) and JSX Air (XE, Dallas Love Field) could be impacted by US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to review regulations following concerns about recent high-volume public charter operations that have become "essentially indistinguishable" from scheduled commercial airline operations, according to a regulatory filing.

On August 24, 2023, the regulator issued a notice of intent advising it was considering revising the definitions of "on-demand operation", "supplemental operation", and "scheduled operation", essentially to better define charter operations under Part 135 and scheduled operations under Part 121 of Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).

This follows controversy over an attempt by SkyWest Airlines (OO, St. George Municipal) to migrate its subsidised scheduled Essential Air Services (EAS) to its Part-135 charter subsidiary SkyWest Charter (SWC). SWC plans to operate EAS with reconfigured 30-seater CRJ200s, which the carrier says is aimed primarily at filling an essential need at small and underserved airports.

Under Part 135, SkyWest will not be bound by the FAA's 1,500-flight-hour requirements for pilots of FAR Part 121 scheduled carriers. The move would help address a pilot shortage plaguing US regional airlines.

The Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) - representing more than 74,000 pilots at 42 US airlines - American Airlines, and Key Lime Air/Denver Air Connection are opposing SkyWest's plans, arguing it would result in lesser-qualified pilots and erode important safety gains made in US aviation. SkyWest has dismissed all allegations. "SWC has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to hiring air transport pilots (ATP) - those with 1,500 hours - in both seats of the flight deck, as well as observe FAR 117 rest rules, active flight dispatching, SMS, Advanced Qualification (AQP) training, traditional TSA checkpoints, and more," a spokeswoman said.

JSX Air has been caught in the crossfire. It has been painted with the same brush, having to defend itself from allegations by American Airlines and ALPA that it was exploiting the same public charter loophole by flying a scheduled charter service with 30-seat jets under Part 135 conditions. The point-to-point hop-on jet service provider has slammed the allegations.

Under 14 CFR 110.2 of FAA's safety regulations, Part-380 public charters falling under the Department of Transport's (DOT) economic regulations may be conducted as "on-demand operations" with aircraft of 30 or fewer passenger seats. The FAA said it would seek public comment on removing the Part 380 exceptions and delinking the FAA's safety regulations from the DOT's economic regulations.

"If the FAA were to remove the exceptions, operators would then conduct public charter flights under the operating part applicable to their operation based on the same criteria that apply to all other non-Part 380 operators, including the size and complexity of aircraft they operate and the frequency of flights."

"Were the FAA to amend its regulatory framework, some operators conducting public charter operations would need to transition from operating under Part 135 to Part 121. This transition may require affected operators to adjust their service models," the regulator stated.

The FAA was asking for public feedback on the expected consequences of a rule change, including its impact on small communities, how competition, innovation, and new technologies might be affected, different ways to regulate passenger services, and how much time operators would need to adjust if new rules were adopted.

SkyWest, in a statement to ch-aviation, said: "SkyWest Charter (SWC) believes that the operation of Part 380 flights under the current FAA classification is essential for small community air service, today and well into the future. The FAA's 'notice of intent' to review its classification of such Part 380 flights clears the path for DOT to approve SWC's application for a Commuter Air Carrier Authorisation, consistent with existing law and SWC's undisputed fitness, since the non-fitness issues will be addressed by the FAA allowing DOT to focus on fitness. Additionally, SWC already exceeds current safety requirements and will transition to any additional requirements that may be adopted by the FAA as part of the rulemaking process."