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VIDEO: Vintage aircraft operators bid to prevent DC-3 grounding

UK Civil Aviation Authority officials are willing to put a safety case before the European Commission to assist a bid by operators of vintage aircraft, notably the Douglas DC-3, to avoid being banned from transporting passengers under new regulations.

Introduction of the EU-OPS rules on 16 July will mean aircraft with more than 19 seats will have to comply with common requirements, including the carriage of equipment which some operators claim is unnecessary and prohibitively expensive.

Coventry-based Air Atlantique, whose Classic Flight division operates several types of pre- and post-war aircraft, has warned that failure to find a way around the rules will effectively ground its DC-3s. The company is preparing a ‘farewell tour’ with the type, covering 18 UK airports in five months, to give people a final chance to experience a DC-3 flight.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to operate these aircraft,” says Classic Flight chairman Mike Collett. “The problem is that it’s not entirely clear what we have to do to get them flying into the next decade.”

  • Interview with Mike Collett, chief executive of Air Atlantique Classic Flight

Its 36-seat DC-3 aircraft are particularly vulnerable because of their size. Operators cannot simply remove seats to bring down the capacity because the EU-OPS regulation is based on approved passenger-seating configuration.

While the DC-3s could still conduct private flights or aerial work, and even perform cargo services under EU-OPS with relatively few modifications, Collett says the alterations required for passenger transport are “significant”.

“If we end up with a bill of half-a-million pounds per aircraft, we’re not going to do it,” he adds.

The DC-3s currently benefit from about a dozen exemptions including those for carrying weather radar, counter-drum-pointer altimeters, a cockpit-voice recorder, public-address system, and emergency lighting.

Collett insists the equipment – while essential for aircraft in airline service – makes little sense when applied to vintage types carrying out just 150 hours’ pleasure flying per year. Under EU-OPS, for example, the DC-3 would need escape slides because its emergency exit sill height exceeds the permissible maximum of 1.83m (6ft) by just a few centimetres.

“People running EU-OPS have stated they have no desire to stop DC-3s flying,” says Collett, adding that the UK CAA has been extremely supportive towards the company and its efforts. “But it’s 50:50 whether we’ll have the chance to put them back in the air again.”

Exemptions to EU-OPS are governed by Article 8 of the new regulation, which allows European Union member states to grant approval for deviation from the requirements as long as a “safety level equivalent” is achieved.

UK CAA regulators have offered assistance to Air Atlantique to find a cost-effective way of keeping the vintage fleet operational.

“What we’ve said to Air Atlantique is this: come up with a safety case about how you meet an equivalent level of safety and we will take it to the European Commission,” says a spokesman for the CAA.

“It’s certainly something we’d try for. We might not be able to achieve anything but we’re willing to try on their behalf.”

Three years ago an airworthy Boeing B-17, based in the UK, was threatened with grounding after changes to European Union rules meant the bomber fell into a much more expensive insurance category. Financial institutions managed to arrange an affordable insurance package which has enabled the B-17 to keep flying.

While the CAA spokesman says the authority will put the DC-3’s case forward “as soon as possible”, he is unable to estimate how long a decision might take.

Classic Flight operates several other types, including eight-seat de Havilland Dragon Rapides. These aircraft, says Collett, will require fewer modifications to bring them into line with the new requirements.