Emma Kelly / Perth

Controversial legislation will affect thousands of flights a year and is designed to lower small aircraft accident rates

Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has released the draft rules for its controversial Part 121B category as part of the country's new civil aviation safety regulations.

The category covers charters and regular public transport flights carrying passengers in aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of up to 5,700kg (12,550lb), and will affect thousands of charter flights to regional airstrips every year.

CASA says the rules are designed to improve safety in the charter sector, which has a higher accident rate than small aircraft operating on regular public transport flights. Industry organisations, however, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Australia (AOPA), have complained that the requirements are too strict and could force operators out of business.

But CASA says charters will become safer under the new rules, saying that in 2001 there were 32 charter-small-aircraft accidents compared with three involving small aircraft in regular public transport.

The notice of proposed rule-making (NPRM), which is available for industry comment until 30 September, introduces comprehensive pilot training and checking requirements for small charter operations. The notice calls for increased supervision of less experienced pilots, and allows single-engined, turbine-powered aircraft to carry up to 14 passengers with a single pilot.

The NPRM sets standard passenger weights for aircraft carrying more than six passengers, more flexible aircraft performance requirements and comprehensive fuel provisions.

CASA says the new rules will result in better pilot skills and knowledge of small-aircraft charter operations - pilot performance being a major factor in most of the accidents. "CASA is not seeking to limit charter operations, but simply to put forward a range of practical improvements to lift safety over time," says Bill McIntyre, the authority's executive manager aviation safety standards.

AOPA Australia has expressed concerns about the Part 121B rules, with president Marjorie Pagani saying they will elevate charter requirements up to the level of airlines. Instead, the association has been calling for an air-taxi category, similar to that in the USA.

Source: Flight International