US DOT sets deadline for Connect Airlines to make progress

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has given Connect Airlines (Bedford, MA) until August 4 to prove that it is making progress towards its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety certification, a process the airline says is taking longer than usual given its application to operate “interstate, flag and supplemental services”.

The scheduled brand of Part 135 operator Waltzing Matilda Aviation (WMA) had asked the DOT to extend until October 5, the deadline for it to start commercial flight operations to gain more time to complete its FAA certification.

After more than a year – during which the DOT questioned the US citizenship of WMA – the DOT granted the company a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity for US interstate scheduled flights on July 5, 2022. On September 6, 2022, the DOT also awarded a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for foreign scheduled air transport of persons, property, and mail. The authority to operate under both certificates depends on Connect Airlines securing an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) and a Foreign Air Operator’s Certificate (FAOC) from Transport Canada.

According to Connect Airlines, the company has applied for three types of operations – domestic scheduled, supplemental, and international – which complicates the FAA proving run process.

Connect Airlines has been engaged in the FAA process since July 2022. “During that process, Connect has performed FAA-monitored proving runs to support its application to conduct interstate, flag and supplemental operations (each kind of operation requiring at least 50 hours of proving runs, unless otherwise authorised by the FAA). Connect also has diligently addressed questions and feedback from the FAA, including with respect to Connect’s safety management system (SMS). Final manuals and other materials have been submitted to the FAA, and Connect is awaiting a final FAA decision on its application,” it disclosed.

In a July 5, 2023, letter to the airline, the DOT said: “Based on the Department’s communications with the FAA, it does not appear that Connect has made satisfactory progress towards obtaining FAA authority. In fact, the FAA previously notified the Department that Connect’s proving flights were terminated. Moreover, Connect provided no information with its waiver and extension request to enable us to determine that Connect continues to be fit or evidencing additional capital contributions from US citizens.”

It added: “In order for the Department to consider granting Connect’s request for a waiver and extension, Connect must provide adequate evidence that it still meets the Department’s fitness criteria and that the applicant is making satisfactory progress in obtaining the required safety authority from the FAA. In addition, given the predominate foreign capitalisation in Connect’s case, the Department also requires the applicant to provide evidence of additional capital contribution from US citizens prior to its receipt of effective authority.”

Asked for comment, Connect Airlines Chief Executive Officer John Thomas said: “I can’t speak to what the FAA meant as reported by the DOT in their letter. What I can tell you is the regulatory requirement is a minimum of 50 hours per type of certificate, and given we are going for domestic scheduled, supplemental and flag out of the gate, that amounts to a minimum requirement of 150 hours of proving flights and we completed 152 hours of flying. Proving flights are done under a Letter of Authorisation issued by the FAA, and we completed the 152 hours without the LOA being terminated. Since then, Connect, in conjunction with the FAA, has continued the certification process that could include additional proving runs (the 150 hours is only the regulatory minimum). We are currently in the process of updating our manuals for further FAA review. Connect is fully aware of and meets the DOT’s ownership and fitness criteria. WMA is already (and has been since 2015) a certified US commercial operator and, as such, has and continues to meet all US ownership requirements.”

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