The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is moving forward with plans to regulate the use of Part 135 public charter authority to effectively operate as a scheduled airline, but said it would evaluate opportunities to define a new type of operating authority for this segment.

"Part of the safety mission of the FAA is identifying risk early on, and that's exactly what we're doing on public charters as usage expands. If a company is effectively operating as a scheduled airline, the FAA needs to determine whether those operations should follow the same stringent rules as scheduled airlines," FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said.

The regulator said that it would "expeditiously" proceed with proposed rulemaking with two main goals in sight. First, it will amend how it defines "scheduled", "on demand", and "supplemental" operations to bring public charters under the same safety requirements as scheduled operations. However, acknowledging that public charters predominantly serve small and rural communities, the FAA plans to set up a Safety Risk Management Panel (SRMP) to assess the feasibility of offering a new permit for scheduled Part 135 operations using 10-30 seat aircraft.

The announcement follows August 2023 rulemaking plans on the highly contentious Part 135 public charter operations which has received nearly 60,000 comments to date.

Current regulations include a loophole allowing Part 135 operators - subject to less stringent safety rules - to fly what is effectively indistinguishable from Part 121 scheduled passenger flights.

Part 121 covers standard scheduled airlines, wherein passengers can book tickets directly. Every airline operating scheduled flights with an aircraft with more than ten seats is subject to Part 121 regulations.

Public charters differ insofar as they are formally arranged by a charterer, who contracts an airline and resells tickets to passengers under US Department of Transportation Part 380 economic authority. Public charterers can contract any airline to operate their flights and are not limited to Part 121 carriers, even if the charters are operated as de facto scheduled flights. The loophole covers the 10-30-seat segment, where carriers can operate under the Part 135 certificate.

There is no prohibition on the same company having Part 380 public charter authority and a Part 135 commuter or on-demand permit, which effectively allows it to "charter" its own flights. The largest airlines operating in this segment currently include JSX Air (with parent JetSuiteX Inc. holding a Part 380 permit), Contour Airlines (operating for parent Contour Aviation), and recently launched SkyWest Charter (operating for SkyWest Airlines). SkyWest's plans to transition some of its Essential Air Service contracts from Part 121 SkyWest Airlines to Part 135 SkyWest Charter sparked the heated debate about the loophole.