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PARIS: TBM850 operator Voldirect gets French IMC approval

There was an air of optimism within Europe's single-engined aircraft camp yesterday after Rennes-based Daher-Socata TBM850 operator Voldirect received approval from the French civil aviation authority to operate the aircraft commercially in instrument meteorological conditions.

This milestone award is a major breakthrough for operators and manufacturers of turbine singles such as the Cessna Caravan, the Pilatus PC-12 and the TBM - on display at the show - after 20 years of fighting to change the rules governing single-engined public transport operations in IMC across the continent.

"The award of Voldirect's aircraft operator's certificate is a major breakthrough," says Socata. "The European Commission has approved this new public passenger transportation mode, which is the result of combined efforts involving the Voldirect, Socata and the French civil aviation inspection authority."

The approval comes after Voldirect demonstrated a safety level equivalent or superior in all fields of operations to that of any airline in Europe, adds the Tarbes-based airframer.

There are a tiny handful of companies in Europe that have been approved for public transport SE-IMC operations, but their services are limited.

"Voldirect can operate commercially within France with the TBM850 and can fly passengers to other countries within Europe; it cannot, however, undertake ongoing flights in another country," explains Socata.

The manufacturer is hoping this approval will persuade other European CAAs to validate SE-IMC for commercial operators. Many countries have been strongly opposed to any alteration of the rules - because, they argue, of the risk of engine failure of a single-engined type - despite other major nations such as Australia, Canada, South Africa and the USA permitting it.

The UK CAA is one of the most vociferous opponents. It argues that the weather in the UK can be particularly fickle, and population density, particularly in the southeast of the country, is the highest in Europe, putting not just passengers but people on the ground at risk from forced landings carried out in IMC conditions.

Socata says the single-engined turboprop community "has been demonstrating for years" to Europe's CAAs the reliability of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turboprop. "The engine has accumulated more than 350 million flight hours and has an outstanding safety record," it says.

Single-engined airframers believe the approval will help to beef up their order books as more companies use these aircraft as a low-cost charter offering.

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