Bell Helicopter plans to certificate a wheeled landing gear modification of the Bell 429 light twin by the end of the year, chief executive John Garrison says.
The modification will be limited to customers mainly outside the USA and Europe, however, until a regulatory question with the US Federal Aviation Administration is answered.
The wheeled landing gear allows the Bell 429 to park and taxi on the ground at airports with limited open space.
Bell is “on track” to certificate the upgrade with Transport Canada on schedule by the end of 2013, Garrison says.
As the upgrade comes with a 113kg (250lb) weight penalty, the Bell 429 needs a 226kg exemption from the 3,180kg take-off weight limit imposed by the FAA on all helicopters certificated under Part 27 aviation regulations.
Transport Canada is among 16 international regulatory agencies that have approved Bell’s request for a 226kg exemption from the Part 27 limit.
The FAA denied Bell’s request for an exemption, and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has made no ruling until US regulators render a decision on the company’s appeal.
“It is under review [by the FAA] and they are doing the technical analysis of the 500lb weight exemption,” Garrison says.
Bell hopes that a separate regulatory action launched by the FAA earlier this year may work in the company’s favour on the exemption request for the Bell 429.
The last time the FAA granted an exemption to the Part 27 weight limit was nearly 20 years ago.
The exemption was approved only because the FAA had agreed to propose a rulemaking that ultimately led to lifting the Part 27 limit from 2,720kg to the current 3,180kg, Garrison says.
Earlier this year, the FAA proposed rewriting the Part 27 regulations again. If the agency follows through, it could set the stage for approving exemptions to the current rules while the rulemaking goes through a lengthy certification process.
“It’s gong to take some time,” Garrison says, “but perhaps that will give them an opportunity to think about the exemption.”
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