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VOLUME 3  GENERAL TECHNICAL ADMINISTRATION

CHAPTER 25  OPERATIONAL CONTROL FOR AIR CARRIERS

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Section 1  Basic Requirements and Policy Applicable to All Air Carriers

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3-1921    BACKGROUND. This section contains some basic requirements and policies related to operational control that apply to all air carriers (Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) parts 121 and 135). The policy in this section is directed towards principal operations inspectors (POI) and aviation safety inspectors (ASI) with oversight responsibility for these air carriers. POIs and ASIs should be thoroughly familiar with this information before reviewing a certificate holder’s operational control policies, procedures, and practices. Operational control with respect to a flight means the exercise of authority over initiating, conducting, or terminating a flight (refer to 14 CFR part 1). The certificate holder’s operational control system should include all of the elements of operational control, such as crewmember and aircraft requirements, dispatch and operational control personnel requirements, management personnel, lease agreements, etc. POIs should be thoroughly familiar with this material when preparing those portions of a certificate holder’s operations specifications (OpSpecs) that relate to operational control (e.g., OpSpec A008). This section is related to Safety Assurance System (SAS) Element 3.3.2 (OP) Dispatch/Flight Release.

3-1922    CHAPTER 25 CONTENTS.

A.    Section 1 (This Section). This section contains general policy and information on topics pertinent to the operational control of all air carrier operations conducted under parts 121 and 135. There are also some subjects that go beyond general information and include details that are important for POIs and ASIs to note. Detailed subjects of particular note contained in this section include:

1)    Operational control functions.
2)    Contents of an operational flight plan.
3)    Required signatures on a dispatch or flight release.
4)    Electronic signatures on a dispatch or flight release.
5)    Part 121 requirements for disposition of flight documents, including electronic retention.
6)    Part 121 requirements for en route communication records for domestic and flag operations, including electronic retention.

B.    Section 2. Section 2 of this chapter contains policy and information specifically related to part 121 domestic and flag dispatch systems and operating rules. Section 2 also contains information on domestic fuel reserves and Aircraft Dispatcher duty time limitations.

C.    Section 3. Section 3 of this chapter contains information specifically related to part 121 supplemental flight release systems and operating rules.

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D.    Section 4. Section 4 of this chapter contains information specifically related to part 121 flag operations, supplemental operations conducted outside the contiguous United States, and extended overwater operations. It includes detailed information on fuel requirements for flag and supplemental operations, as well as information on planned re-dispatch and rerelease operations and special fuel reserves.

E.    Section 5. Section 5 of this chapter contains information specific to part 135 flight locating requirements; part 135, § 135.179; and operational rules.

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3-1923    ADDITIONAL RELATED POLICY.

A.    OpSpecs. Volume 3, Chapter 18 contains detailed information on issuing specific OpSpecs.

B.    Aviation Weather Information. Volume 3, Chapter 26 contains information regarding regulatory requirements and guidance regarding aviation weather information. Volume 4, Chapter 4 contains information regarding aircraft minimum equipment lists (MEL) and Configuration Deviation Lists (CDL).

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C.    CDL and MEL. Volume 4 contains policy and information related to aircraft equipment and operational authorizations.

D.    Electronic Signatures, Electronic Recordkeeping Systems, and Electronic Manuals. Volume 3, Chapter 31 and the current edition of Advisory Circular (AC) 120-78, Electronic Signatures, Electronic Recordkeeping, and Electronic Manuals, contain policy and standards related to these electronic applications.

3-1924    GENERAL REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS AND OPERATIONAL CONTROL FUNCTIONS. In accordance with part 121, §§ 121.533, 121.535, and 121.537, the certificate holder is responsible for operational control of all flights it conducts. Section 135.77 also places the responsibility for operational control with the certificate holder. In part 121 domestic and flag operations, the pilot in command (PIC) and Aircraft Dispatcher have joint responsibility to exercise operational control of a particular flight. For part 121 supplemental operations, operational control of a particular flight is the responsibility of the PIC and the Director of Operations (DO). The DO may delegate certain operational control functions to other individuals, but he or she cannot delegate the responsibility for those functions. Operational control functions include, but are not limited to:

    Preflight planning;

    For part 121 operations, preparation and dissemination of dispatch/flight releases;

    Canceling a flight due to potential hazardous or unsafe conditions;

    Ensuring that only those operations authorized by the OpSpecs are conducted;

    Ensuring that only crewmembers who are trained and qualified in accordance with the applicable regulations are assigned to conduct a flight;

    For part 121 operations, ensuring that no flight is started unless it has been authorized by a dispatcher or person authorized to exercise operational control in accordance with § 121.593, § 121.595, or § 121.597, as applicable;

    Ensuring that crewmembers are in compliance with flight and duty time limitations and rest requirements prior to departing on a flight;

    Designating a PIC and, where applicable, a second in command (SIC) for each flight;

    Providing the personnel who perform operational control functions (PIC, dispatcher, etc.) with access to all necessary information for the safe conduct of the flight (e.g., weather, Notices to Airmen (NOTAM), airport aeronautical data (analysis), and inoperable instruments and equipment);

    Specifying the conditions under which a flight may be dispatched or released (weather minimums, flight planning, airworthiness of aircraft, aircraft loading, and fuel requirements);

    For part 121 operations, ensuring that when the conditions, limitations, and authorizations specified in a dispatch or flight release cannot be met, the flight is either cancelled, delayed, rerouted, or diverted;

    For part 121 operations, ensuring that each flight is conducted in accordance with the conditions and limitations of the dispatch or flight release;

    Ensuring that each flight is operated in accordance with the limitations of the MEL and CDL;

    For part 121 operations, monitoring the progress of each flight and initiating timely actions when the flight cannot be completed as planned, including diverting or terminating a flight;

    For part 135 operations, locating a flight for which a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight plan has not been filed;

    For part 121 operations, ensuring rapid and reliable communications in accordance with §§ 121.99 and 121.122, as applicable;

    Restricting or suspending operations in accordance with § 121.551, § 121.553, or § 135.69, as applicable; and

    Exercising the emergency authority described in §§ 121.557, 121.559, and 135.19, as applicable.

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3-1925    CERTIFICATE HOLDER’S MANUAL. Sections 121.133 and 135.21 require certificate holders to prepare and keep current a manual for the guidance of flight, ground, and management personnel in the performance of their duties and responsibilities. The certificate holder’s manual must identify the person who has overall responsibility for operational control and those persons to whom authority to exercise operational control has been delegated. The certificate holder’s manual must contain policies and procedures regarding the operational control functions of flightcrews, dispatchers, and other persons authorized to exercise operational control. The procedures must include at least information on the operational control functions listed in paragraph 3-1924. Other chapters in this order often refer to the manuals required by §§ 121.133 and 135.21 as the General Operations Manual (GOM).

3-1926    OPERATIONAL CONTROL SYSTEMS. Operational control systems vary with the kind of operation the certificate holder is authorized to conduct (i.e., domestic, flag, supplemental, commuter, or on‑demand). In descending order of precision and complexity, the three general operational control systems are flight dispatch, flight following, and flight locating. Each certificate holder must include policies and procedures appropriate to the system being used in its manual.

A.    Dispatch Systems. Sections 121.533 and 121.535 require certificate holders who conduct domestic and flag operations to employ certificated Aircraft Dispatchers to exercise operational control of flights operated by the certificate holder.

B.    Flight Following Systems. Section 121.537 places the major responsibility for the operational control of part 121 supplemental operations with the DO and the PIC. The DO may delegate the functions for initiation, continuation, diversion, and termination of a flight to other employees; however, the DO always retains full responsibility for these functions. The persons exercising operational control in a part 121 supplemental flight following system are often referred to as “flight followers.” ASIs should be aware that certificate holders may apply different job titles to these individuals. No matter what job title the certificate holder elects to use, § 121.537(a)(2) requires the certificate holder to list each person authorized to exercise operational control in its operations manual.

C.    Flight Locating Systems. Section 135.79 generally requires a certificate holder conducting part 135 operations to establish procedures for locating each flight and retaining flight locating information at the certificate holder’s principal place of business or at other places designated by the certificate holder. Sections 135.23 and 135.77 require a certificate holder to list the name and title of each individual authorized to exercise operational control in the certificate holder’s operations manual. A certificate holder conducting part 135 operations may delegate the authority to exercise operational control of a specific flight to the PIC, but the overall responsibility for operational control always rests with the certificate holder. If a flight plan is not filed with air traffic control (ATC), the certificate holder must be able to establish the location of the flight to provide timely notification to an FAA facility or search and rescue facility if an aircraft is overdue or missing. The certificate holder’s flight locating system must provide the certificate holder with the location, date, and estimated time for reestablishing communications if a flight will operate in an area where communications cannot be maintained.

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NOTE:  Parts 121 and 135 certificate holders must describe their system for exercising operational control in OpSpec A008. POIs may allow certificate holders to list the name and section of the manual that contains the description of the operational control systems in A008 in lieu of describing the system itself in the OpSpec. In such cases, POIs must ensure that the manual references listed in A008 remain current and that the sections of the manual referenced in A008 that describe the operational control system provide an accurate description of the system.

3-1927    OPERATIONAL CONTROL ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE.

A.    Organizational Considerations. Operational control functions can be central to a single department, such as flight operations, or they can be diversified throughout the air carrier’s (certificate holder’s) organization. Most part 121 certificate holders create specialized departments for dispatch, maintenance control, crew scheduling, load control, and other operational control functions. Despite the fact that multiple specialized departments may carry out operational control functions, those departments are still typically part of the flight operations organization. No matter how the certificate holder’s operational control system and organization is structured, the certificate holder is always responsible for doing the following:

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    Establish policies, procedures, and controls that ensure all necessary functions have been accomplished before a flight is authorized to depart;

    Establish effective internal communications, operating procedures, and administrative controls to meet this obligation; and

    Ensure that these procedures are published in the certificate holder’s operations manual.

1)    FAA Evaluation. ASIs must evaluate each certificate holder’s operational control system to ensure that the certificate holder complies with all applicable regulations, and that the system is effective and provides for an adequate level of safety in the operations being conducted.
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2)    Inadequate Operational Control. If an ASI finds that a certificate holder’s operational control system does not provide an adequate level of control to ensure safety, the ASI should carefully document the facts using the appropriate SAS Data Collection Tool (DCT) and report them to the POI. The POI in turn will evaluate the facts and inform the certificate holder of the necessary changes that need to be made to ensure adequate operational control is maintained at all times. If at any time a certificate holder is unwilling to make the necessary changes, the POI should initiate a Compliance Action (CA). The POI may also find it necessary to amend the certificate holder’s OpSpecs in accordance with 14 CFR part 119, § 119.51.
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B.    Services Provided by Contractors. Certificate holders may contract for certain equipment, services, and facilities. Certificate holders conducting parts 121 and/or 135 operations cannot, under any circumstances, contract responsibility for operational control (§§ 121.533, 121.535, 121.537, and 135.77). Certificate holders conducting part 121 supplemental operations may arrange to have flight following facilities provided by persons other than its employees in accordance with § 121.125; however, all operational control responsibilities remain with the certificate holder at all times. If a POI elects to approve a part 121 supplemental certificate holder to use such a flight following facility, the POI and the certificate holder must describe its use in OpSpec A008. Certificate holders are always responsible for ensuring that the training and qualification of contract personnel meets all regulatory requirements, and that contract personnel are performing their duties in accordance with the certificate holder’s policies and procedures. The certificate holder must also have an effective means of maintaining responsibility for the actions and/or inactions of contract personnel should they fail to comply with Federal regulations or the certificate holder’s policies and procedures. All contract arrangements must be clearly and completely defined in the certificate holder’s manual.

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3-1928    AIRCRAFT DISPATCHERS. An Aircraft Dispatcher (sometimes referred to as simply “dispatcher” in this chapter) is an individual employed by a certificate holder in accordance with the requirements of §§ 121.107, 121.533, 121.537, and 121.595. Aircraft Dispatchers must be trained and qualified in accordance with the requirements of part 121 subparts N, O, and P. Aircraft Dispatchers are responsible for exercising operational control for certificate holders conducting part 121 domestic and flag operations and are required to hold an Aircraft Dispatcher airman certificate. (Information related to Aircraft Dispatcher duty time limitations is located in Volume 3, Chapter 25, Section 2.) Certificate holders conducting part 121 supplemental operations and part 135 operations are not required to use certificated Aircraft Dispatchers to exercise operational control; however, it is typical for a certificate holder conducting part 121 supplemental operations to maintain a dispatch center and employ certificated Aircraft Dispatchers.

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3-1929    AERONAUTICAL DATA. Certificate holders must provide the information necessary to plan, conduct, and control flight operations. The information must be available to flightcrews, dispatchers, and other persons authorized to exercise operational control. Most of this information can be obtained through subscriptions to a government service or to a commercial aeronautical information and charting service. Certificate holders should be expected to supplement these services when necessary and, in all cases, are responsible for ensuring that the information used is accurate and complete. Certificate holders must also supply other data such as NOTAMs, track messages, and airport obstruction data, when applicable. The certificate holder must describe his or her system of obtaining and distributing airport aeronautical data in OpSpec A009. The certificate holder’s system must contain guidance and procedures by which flightcrew members, dispatchers, and operational control personnel can acquire and apply this information.

A.    Part 121 Requirements for Aeronautical Data. Sections 121.97 and 121.117, as applicable, require certificate holders who conduct part 121 operations to have an approved system for obtaining, maintaining, and distributing current aeronautical data to the appropriate personnel. A certificate holder must provide this data for each airport it uses to ensure a safe operation.

B.    Part 135 Requirements for Aeronautical Data. Section 135.83 requires the aircraft operator (the certificate holder) to provide the pilot, and for that pilot to use, current aeronautical charts. Section 135.229 requires a certificate holder to use airports that are adequate for the proposed operation, considering such items as size, surface, obstructions, and lighting. Part 135 subpart I contains takeoff and landing performance limitations for large transport category aircraft. Section 135.23(r) requires an on-demand operator, using large transport category aircraft, to have approved destination airport analysis in its manual. Aeronautical charts, verification of airport adequacy, takeoff and landing limitations, and destination airport analysis all require the use of airport aeronautical data.

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C.    Airport and Facilities. The Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD) contains vital information on airports, seaplane bases, and heliports that cannot be readily depicted in graphic form. Certificate holders must make this information available to flightcrews, dispatchers, and operational control personnel. A/FDs are now available as Digital – Chart Supplements (d-CS) on the FAA’s website at www.faa.gov.

1)    Examples of what is contained in an A/FD include, but are not limited to:

    Types of Navigational Aids (NAVAID),

    Airport hours of operation,

    Communications,

    Weather sources,

    Type of airspace,

    Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF),

    Types of available fuel,

    Runway bearing strength,

    Airport lighting, and

    Special notices and operational procedures.

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2)    ASIs should inform certificate holders that such information is removed from the NOTAM system when it is published in the A/FD. This information is obtained from the Aeronautical Information Publications (AIP) of the country for operations outside the United States. A/FDs are typically published in printed form, but may be accessed digitally at https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/digital_products/dafd/.

D.    NOTAMs. NOTAMs contain time-critical aeronautical information regarding temporary or unanticipated changes or hazards affecting communication, navigation, or airport facilities. Information contained in NOTAMs can have a direct effect on decisions regarding the safety of flight. Certificate holders must have a method of providing NOTAMs to flightcrews, dispatchers, and operational control personnel for domestic and international operations in airspace covered by NOTAM systems. More information on NOTAMs is contained in Volume 3, Chapter 26, Section 6. NOTAMs include information such as:

    Airport or aerodrome closures;

    Runway, taxiway, and ramp closures;

    Temporary or permanent obstructions;

    Inoperative communication facilities;

    Inoperative or unmonitored NAVAIDs;

    Airspace restrictions and changes;

    Changes to or inoperative satellite equipment; and

    Radar service availability.

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E.    Oceanic Track Messages. Oceanic track messages contain the coordinates of routes in oceanic airspace such as those located in the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The North Atlantic Tracks (NAT) are published for the North Atlantic Organized Track System (NAT OTS) (typically referred to as NAT Tracks), and the Pacific Organized Track System (PACOTS) is published for the Pacific Ocean to connect the West Coast of the United States and Japan. Western Pacific and Northern Pacific Track NOTAMs are also available as international NOTAMs under the location identifiers of the respective air route traffic control center (ARTCC) (e.g., Oakland ARTCC (KZOA) or Anchorage ARTCC (PAZA)). Flightcrews operating over these routes are required to have all current valid track coordinates available in the cockpit to verify flight plan coordinates should an in-flight rerouting become necessary. Dispatchers and other persons authorized to exercise operational control must have access to the appropriate oceanic track message for the preflight planning and en route phase of each flight operating in an organized track system (OTS). Information regarding current track messages can be accessed at https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/digital_products/dafd/.

F.    Aircraft Performance and Airport Obstacle Data. ASIs must ensure that certificate holders comply with the performance requirements of part 121 subpart I or part 135 subpart I, as applicable. Certificate holders operating transport category and commuter category airplanes must obtain and use airport obstacle data to calculate takeoff and landing performance (see Volume 4, Chapter 3) for departure, destination, and alternate airports. Certificate holders must comply with en route obstacle clearance requirements, including contingency planning for engine failure. ASIs should see Volume 4, Chapter 3 for direction and guidance on aircraft performance requirements.

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3-1930    WEATHER INFORMATION FOR CONTROL OF FLIGHT OPERATIONS. See Volume 3, Chapter 26, Sections 1 through 6, for information regarding aviation weather.

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3-1931    FLIGHT PLANNING. ASIs must ensure that certificate holders conduct flight planning that meets at least the following requirements:

    Adheres to the standards of navigational accuracy required in the airspace traversed;

    Meets regulatory fuel requirements;

    Meets aircraft performance parameters;

    Satisfies ATC information and reporting requirements;

    Satisfies driftdown and supplemental oxygen requirements, where applicable; and

    Ensures a safe operating environment.

NOTE:  The degree of sophistication required in flight planning depends on the type of operations (e.g., domestic, international Extended Operations (ETOPS), re-dispatch/rerelease), navigation conducted, and airspace traversed.

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A.    Operational Flight Plan. The term “operational flight plan” means a paper document or a file of electronic data prepared for purposes of flight planning, en route operation, and navigation. Flight planning consists of selecting an appropriate aircraft cruise schedule and applying forecast wind, temperature, aircraft weight, and aircraft performance data to a planned route to predict estimated time en route (ETE) and estimated fuel consumption. The term “ATC flight plan” is used in this chapter to mean the subset of information extracted from the operational flight plan that is filed with ATC to obtain an ATC clearance.

B.    Contents of an Operational Flight Plan.

1)    Method of Navigation—Class I.
a)    Class I navigation is any en route flight operation that contains a route or a portion of a route that is conducted within the designated operational service volume of standard airway navigation facilities (very high frequency (VHF) omni-directional range station (VOR), VOR/distance measuring equipment (DME), Non-Directional Beacon (NDB)). Class I navigation also includes:

    En route flight operations over routes designated with a minimum en route altitude (MEA) gap; and

    Operations within the service volume using pilotage or any other means of navigation that does not rely on the use of VOR, VOR/DME, or NDB.

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b)    Operational flight plans based solely on Class I navigation should include at least the following:

    Fix or intersection identifiers, segment distances, ETE for each segment, and an estimate of fuel consumption for each segment (a segment or zone is the distance between two waypoints (WPT)).

    A summation of distance, time, and fuel to show regulatory compliance.

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    The dispatch/flight release may also be attached.

2)    Method of NavigationOceanic and Remote Continental Navigation Using Multiple Long‑Range Navigation Systems (M-LRNS). Long-range oceanic and remote continental navigation is navigation conducted beyond the operational service volume of standard International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) NAVAIDs. An operational flight plan containing a route or a portion of a route based on oceanic and remote continental navigation should contain at least the following elements:

    WPTs (fixes for the portion of the route conducted by Class I navigation);

    The WPT latitude and longitude coordinates and identifier/name, if applicable;

    The course leaving the WPT (true course for polar operations and areas of magnetic unreliability (AMU));

    Forecast segment wind direction and speed, and any associated drift correction;

    Wind profiles for the route of flight based on the planned flight level and levels above and below;

    Forecast temperature (or temperature deviation) and true airspeed (TAS);

    Segment distances, estimated groundspeed (GS), and segment ETE;

    ETE for flight information region (FIR) boundaries;

    Estimate of fuel consumption for each segment;

    Calculation of Equal Time Points (ETP), if required for compliance with engine-out fuel or oxygen requirements;

    A summation of distance, time, and fuel to indicate regulatory and ICAO compliance;

    A means of predicting clear air turbulence, such as the height of the tropopause, maximum wind level, temperature gradients, or shear index;

    For ETOPS, a display of the ETOPS critical fuel scenario (CFS) requirements, including distance, fuel, and time to en route alternates, and the amount of additional fuel needed to accommodate the CFS;

    An ATC flight plan indicating the communication, navigation, and surveillance capabilities and airspace authorizations, including the filed route, must be attached to the operational flight plan; and

    The dispatch/flight release may also be attached.

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C.    Computation and Verification. An operational flight plan may be calculated manually, but is most often computed by electronic means. In either case, ASIs must ensure that each certificate holder’s manual contains specific policies, procedures, formats, and forms to be used for flight planning. POIs will verify that the certificate holder’s policies and procedures contain a requirement for flightcrew members, dispatchers, and operational control personnel to verify the accuracy of operational flight plans. Those that are computer‑generated can be subject to input errors. Use of a computer flight plan does not guarantee accuracy. Computer systems that contain internal software to check for errors in operational flight plans are desirable, but are still subject to error if the inputted data is incorrect. POIs will ensure that the certificate holder’s manual contains adequate procedures for flightcrews, dispatchers, and operational control personnel to scrutinize all computer-generated and manually generated operational flight plans for accuracy.

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D.    Fuel Performance Calculation. Flight planning systems utilized by certificate holders must provide accurate fuel performance calculations. POIs must ensure that each certificate holder has a method to substantiate the estimated fuel performance for any given flight. Substantiation of fuel performance may be as simple as comparing the planned arrival fuel with the actual arrival fuel to see if the actual fuel burned en route was correctly estimated in the operational flight plan calculation. This is particularly important when a certificate holder conducting part 121 flag or supplemental operations is issued OpSpecs such as B043, Special Fuel Reserves in International Operations; B044, Planned Redispatch or Rerelease En Route; or any other OpSpec that provides any kind of relief from the fuel requirements of § 121.645(b).

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E.    Navigation Methods and Flight Plans. Detailed information regarding navigation classes and methods can be found in Volume 4, Chapter 1.

3-1932    SELECTION OF ALTERNATE AIRPORTS. A critical element of preflight planning is the selection of alternate, departure, en route, and destination airports. PICs, dispatchers, and operational control personnel have a range of latitude to accommodate individual circumstances. Certificate holders must provide specific direction and guidance to PICs, dispatchers, and operational control personnel for the selection of takeoff, en route, and destination alternate airports.

NOTE:  Additional information regarding the selection of alternate airports can be found in Volume 3, Chapter 25, Sections 3 through 5.

A.    Terrain. When selecting alternate airports, dispatchers, operational control personnel, and PICs must exercise particular caution when conducting operations in mountainous areas. POIs must ensure that certificate holder’s procedures for operations to alternate airports comply with part 121 subpart I (particularly §§ 121.191, 121.193, 121.195, and 121.197) or part 135 subpart I (in normal and engine-out configurations).

B.    Weather, NAVAIDs, and Airport Conditions. Dispatchers, other persons authorized to exercise operational control, and PICs must be aware of the effect of weather conditions, inoperative NAVAIDs, and airport conditions when selecting alternate airports. Inoperative NAVAIDs, shift in wind direction, contaminated runways, or closed runways can all render an airport unacceptable as an alternate.

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3-1933    LOAD CONTROL. Certificate holders must have a means of adequately planning payload and limiting it if necessary when hazardous weather and/or en route conditions dictate the need to carry additional fuel, or when restrictions posed by runway conditions, terrain, altitude, or inoperable instruments or equipment require the aircraft be operated at restricted weights. The weight at which an aircraft can be released is limited by takeoff, en route terrain clearance, and landing performance limitations (see Volume 4, Chapter 3).

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A.    Loading Assumptions. Dispatchers and operational control personnel must take into account the estimated or actual payload when calculating (or computing) a flight plan. When working with an estimated payload, dispatchers and persons authorized to exercise operational control must be prepared to revise the flight plan and amend the dispatch/flight release, as necessary, upon discovery of the actual payload when it varies significantly from that which was estimated. POIs must ensure that certificate holders provide guidelines on what constitutes a significant variance in payload to flightcrews, dispatchers, and persons authorized to exercise operational control. Some certificate holders actually include weight adjustments in specific decrements on flight plans and/or Weight and Balance (W&B) documents.

B.    Manual Considerations. ASIs must ensure that the certificate holder’s manual system contains information and procedures for the computation and control of fuel loads, payloads, takeoff weights, aircraft center of gravity (CG). Each certificate holder’s manual must clearly delineate the category of employee (e.g., dispatcher, load planner, etc.) making these computations. The certificate holder’s manual(s) must contain adequate information and procedures for employees performing these calculations, and methods to ensure that they are calculated accurately. The certificate holder’s manual(s) must also contain procedures for flightcrews, dispatchers, and other persons authorized to exercise operational control to ensure that all necessary calculations have been completed accurately before an aircraft departs.

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3-1934    REQUIRED SIGNATURES ON A DISPATCH OR FLIGHT RELEASE.

A.    Signatures by the PIC and the Aircraft Dispatcher Affirming the Belief That a Flight Can Be “Made With Safety.” Part 121 domestic and flag rules require the PIC and the Aircraft Dispatcher to sign the dispatch release only when both parties believe the flight can be “made with safety” (conducted safely). Part 121 supplemental rules require the PIC to sign the flight release only when the PIC and the person authorized by the operator to exercise operational control believe that the flight can be “made with safety.”

1)    Dispatch Release for Part 121 Domestic and/or Flag Operations. Section 121.663 requires each certificate holder conducting domestic and/or flag operations to prepare a dispatch release for each flight between specified points, based on information furnished by an authorized Aircraft Dispatcher. The PIC and the authorized Aircraft Dispatcher must sign each release affirming that they both believe that the flight can be conducted safely. This includes releases that are revised.
a)    In accordance with § 121.663, an Aircraft Dispatcher may delegate his or her authority to sign a dispatch release for a particular flight, but he or she may not delegate his or her authority to dispatch.

1.    POIs must positively affirm that when a certificate holder allows an aircraft dispatcher to delegate the authority for signing the dispatch release to another individual, the certificate holder has specific policies and procedures in place regarding the appropriate delegation of the dispatcher’s signature authority. The policy should include a listing of those individuals, by position, to whom the dispatcher may delegate his or her signature authority.

2.    A certificate holder must not allow the dispatcher to delegate his or her signature authority to the PIC, as this would be contrary to the regulatory requirement for both the PIC and the dispatcher to sign the dispatch release.

3.    The certificate holder’s procedures should include a method of recognizing when a signature on the dispatch release has been delegated to somebody other than the dispatcher who has released the flight. For example, if the dispatcher’s name is printed on the release, the individual signing the release can insert the word “for” when signing for the dispatcher (e.g., in John Doe signing “for” Jane Doe).

b)    There is no provision in § 121.663 for a PIC to delegate his or her authority to sign a dispatch or flight release. Only the PIC can sign the release affirming his or her belief that the flight can be “made with safety.”
2)    Flight Release for Part 121 Supplemental Operations. Section 121.597 states that no person may start a flight unless the PIC or the person authorized by the operator to exercise operational control over the flight have executed a flight release setting forth the conditions under which the flight will be conducted. The regulation further states that the PIC may sign the flight release only when he or she and the person authorized by the operator to exercise operational control believe that the flight can be made “with safety.” Section 121.597 refers only to the PIC where signing the release is concerned. It does not mention, or otherwise specify, a signature by the person authorized to exercise operational control.

B.    Flightcrew Member’s Affirmation of Fitness for Duty. Title 14 CFR part 117, § 117.5(d) requires each flightcrew member to affirmatively state that he or she is fit for duty prior to commencing flight. Each flightcrew member’s affirmation must be part of the dispatch or flight release. These requirements are further explained in the regulatory preambles to part 117.

1)    In accordance with the January 14, 2012 preamble to part 117, “The dispatch or flight release containing the affirmation must be signed by each flightcrew member. This requirement applies to each flight segment.” (Refer to 77 FR 329, Flightcrew Member Duty and Rest Requirements, page 350.) The preamble explains that “there is no objective scientific test that the PIC could use to measure the fatigue levels of other flightcrew members. Because the PIC has no way to objectively measure other flightcrew members’ fatigue, the FAA has determined that each flightcrew member should be required to monitor his or her own fatigue level.” Hence the requirement for each flightcrew member to sign the dispatch or flight release containing the affirmation of fitness for duty. A PIC must not attempt to sign as fit for duty on behalf of any other flightcrew member.
2)    In accordance with the March 5, 2013 preamble, a “flight segment consists of a takeoff and a landing.” (Refer to 78 FR 14166, Clarification of Flight, Duty, and Rest Requirements, page 14172.) This means that each flightcrew member must sign must sign the affirmation before a flight takes off, even when taking off from an intermediate airport.

C.    Signatures Are Part of the Dispatch or Flight Release. The signatures of each flightcrew member (§ 117.5), each PIC (§§ 121.597 and 121.663), and each Aircraft Dispatcher (§ 121.663) are part of the dispatch or flight release and must be retained as such in accordance with the requirements of §§ 121.695 and 121.697, as applicable.

3-1935    ELECTRONIC SIGNATURES ON A DISPATCH OR FLIGHT RELEASE.

A.    Specific Authorization Is Required. OpSpec authorization is required for certificate holders who desire to use an electronic method and/or application for an Aircraft Dispatcher, PIC, and/or flightcrew member to sign a dispatch or flight release. An electronic signature is optional, not mandatory. However, if a certificate holder desires this option, authorization for each electronic signature type is required in OpSpec A025. (For specific information on OpSpec A025 itself, see Volume 3, Chapter 18, Section 3.) In order to obtain the A025 authorization, certificate holders will need to meet the standards set forth in the current edition of AC 120‑78. These standards are also described in Volume 3, Chapter 31, Section 2.

B.    An Electronic Signature on a Dispatch or Flight Release Should Definitively Convey the Signatory’s Intent to Sign for Each Required. A signature should definitively convey the signatory’s intent to sign. A common way of accomplishing this is to include a word or statement of intent on the dispatch or flight release that is contained in the signature block or otherwise precedes the electronic signature. An example of this would be the words “signed by” preceding the signature. Clarifying statements on a dispatch or flight release can be used to associate each electronic signature with the required affirmation. For example, when the PIC and Aircraft Dispatcher sign a dispatch release in accordance with § 121.663, it should be clear that each individual is signing to affirm that he or she believes the flight can be “made with safety.” This can be accomplished by including a statement in the dispatch release that conveys the belief (For example: “By signing this dispatch release, I am affirming my belief that this flight can be made with safety.”) One of the requirements of an electronic signature process, as described in the current edition of AC 120-78, is that it must be clear to the signatory exactly what it is that they are signing. This applies to all required signatures on a dispatch or flight release, including releases that are revised or otherwise reissued.

C.    An Electronic Signature Must Be a Part of, or Otherwise Permanently Attached to, the Dispatch or Flight Release.

1)    Standards of the Current Edition of AC 120-78. In accordance with the standards for electronic signatures as described in the current edition of AC 120-78, any electronic form of signature must be attached to, or associated with, the electronic record being signed. The signature must be permanent, and the information to which it is attached must be unalterable without a new signature.
2)    Regulatory Requirements of §§ 117.5, 121.597, and 121.663. The actual regulatory requirements applicable to signatures on a dispatch or flight release further clarify the basic standards for electronic signatures that are part of a release.
a)    Section 121.597 requires the PIC to sign the flight release. Therefore, the PIC’s electronic signature must be made on the release itself, or it must be permanently attached to the flight release.
b)    Section 121.663 requires the dispatcher and the PIC to sign the dispatch release. Therefore, each electronic signature must be made on the release itself, or it must be permanently attached to the dispatch release.
c)    Section 117.5 requires each flightcrew member’s affirmation of fitness for duty to be part of the dispatch release. The release containing the affirmation must be signed by each flightcrew member for each flight segment. Therefore, an electronic signature must be made by each flightcrew member on the release itself, or each flightcrew member’s electronic signature must be permanently attached to the dispatch or flight release.

3-1936    VERIFY ALL REQUIRED SIGNATURES ARE INCLUDED IN OR ATTACHED TO A DISPATCH OR FLIGHT RELEASE. When reviewing dispatch or flight releases, POIs and ASIs must verify that each release contains, or has attached to it, each signature required by § 117.5 and § 121.597 or § 121.663, as applicable, depending on the kind of operation. Review dispatch or flight releases during the normal completion of SAS DCT 3.3.2, (OP) Dispatch/Flight Release. Inspectors should also review dispatch and flight releases during the conduct of cockpit en route inspections. Each required signature must be clearly visible on a release. If a required signature is on separate document, that document must be directly attached to the dispatch or flight release.

3-1937    PART 121 REQUIREMENTS FOR DISPOSITION OF FLIGHT DOCUMENTS. In accordance with §§ 121.695 and 121.697, PICs conducting part 121 operations are required to carry certain flight documents in the airplane to its destination. Certificate holders are also required to retain these documents (or a copy) for at least 3 months. Some of these documents include, but are not limited to:

    A copy of the completed load manifest (or information from it),

    A copy of the dispatch or flight release, and

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    A copy of the flight plan.

A.    Amendments to a Dispatch or Flight Release. All amendments to the dispatch or flight release recorded by the flightcrew, dispatcher, or person authorized to exercise operational control in accordance with § 121.631(g) are considered to be part of the release, and as such are subject to the same disposition (retention) requirements as the original dispatch or flight release. Amendments to a release should include at least the following information:

    The reason for the amendment (e.g., a change in altitude, route, airport, or addition/removal of an MEL);

    The conditions and limitations of the amendment (e.g., those imposed by route, airport, or inoperative instruments or equipment);

    Information such as weather and NOTAMs when a new airport is being added;

    The name of the individual authorizing the amendment (e.g., a dispatcher);

    The name of the person concurring to an amendment (e.g., the PIC); and

    The date and time the amendment is effective.

NOTE:  Certificate holders must have a method of retaining all recorded amendments to a dispatch or flight release as part of, or attached to, the original release. Section 121.631(g) does not specify the method in which an individual may record his or her amendment, and there is typically more than one way an amendment will be recorded.

1)    Amendments Recorded in Writing. Many certificate holders utilize paper (hard) copies of dispatch or flight releases. Amendments transmitted and recorded by flightcrews, dispatchers, or persons authorized to exercise operational control will often be accomplished by writing it down (pen and ink) on the actual dispatch or flight release. Certificate holders must have a method of retaining all handwritten, pen and ink amendments as part of the original dispatch or flight release in accordance with §§ 121.695 and 121.697 (as applicable to the type of operation).
2)    Amendments Recorded Electronically. Certificate holders whose flightcrews, dispatchers, and persons authorized to exercise operational control transmit and record their amendments electronically via the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) must have a means of retaining electronically recorded amendments as part of the original dispatch or flight release.
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3)    Amendments Recorded by Voice. Whether a certificate holder utilizes a paper or electronic copy of a dispatch or flight release, amendments are often made via voice communications. These communications can occur on the ground or en route using a cellular phone, high frequency (HF), VHF, or satellite communications (SATCOM). Section 121.711 requires a certificate holder to retain all en route communications between the certificate holder and his or her pilots for 30 days. However, this should not be confused with the certificate holder’s responsibility to retain an amendment as part of a dispatch or flight release, which takes precedence over the requirement to retain en route communications. Therefore, any and all amendments relayed and recorded by voice, whether the aircraft is on the ground or en route, must be retained with the dispatch or flight release for 3 months, in accordance with the requirements of §§ 121.695 and 121.697, as applicable.
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B.    Electronic Documents. Certificate holders who desire to electronically retain the documents required by §§ 121.695 and 121.697 must first obtain FAA acceptance or approval (depending on the requirement) and authorization to use an electronic recordkeeping system. The FAA accepts, approves, and authorizes an electronic recordkeeping system through the issuance of OpSpec A025. Before authorizing a certificate holder to use an electronic recordkeeping system to retain dispatch or flight releases, POIs must first ensure the electronic system also retains the electronic signatures required by §§ 117.5, 121.597, and 121.663. This will require the certificate holder to obtain FAA authorization to use electronic signatures. (See also paragraph 3-1935 of this section.) Electronic retention of a dispatch or flight release must also include a means to retain all amendments issued and recorded in writing, electronically, and/or by voice.

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3-1938    PART 121 REQUIREMENTS FOR EN ROUTE COMMUNICATION RECORDS FOR DOMESTIC AND FLAG OPERATIONS. In accordance with § 121.711(a), each certificate holder conducting domestic or flag operations must record each en route communication between the certificate holder and its pilots using a communication system as required by § 121.99. The rationale behind this rule is to enable the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Administrator to fully discharge their respective accident investigation and safety regulatory responsibilities.

A.    Definition of “En Route.” Section 121.711(b) defines en route as the time the airplane pushes back from the departing gate until the time the airplane reaches the arrival gate at its destination.

1)    Gate. For the purposes of this chapter, a “gate” is defined as the location at which an airplane is parked. The term “gate” applies to a jet bridge at an airport terminal, a parking spot on the airport ramp area, or a hard stand.
2)    Pushback. The term “pushback” is used to describe an airplane being towed (pushed) rearward away from a gate by a vehicle (e.g., tug or tractor). However, not all airport operations (such as those from a hard stand) require an airplane to be “pushed back.” Therefore, the time an airplane “pushes back” is considered to be when an airplane is towed rearward away from the gate, taxis rearward under its own power (powerback), or taxis forward under its own power.
3)    Arrival at Gate. An airplane is considered to have reached the arrival gate when the flightcrew has set the parking brake at the gate.

B.    Communication Systems. Each certificate holder conducting domestic or flag operations must record all en route communication between the certificate holder and its pilots. This requirement applies to all communication systems utilized by the certificate holder. Examples of communication systems include VHF and HF radio, data link, ACARS, and satellite, cellular, digital, or analog (landline) telephone.

C.    Contents of Records. Section 121.711(c) specifies the minimum information each certificate holder must record. The most common and preferred practice is for a certificate holder to record en route communications electronically. However, a certificate holder may manually record en route communications. In accordance with § 121.711(c), each en route communication record must contain at least the following information:

1)    The date and time (specify local time or universal coordinated time (UTC)) of the contact (communication). This should include the time the contact was initiated and the time the contact was concluded.
2)    The flight number.
3)    Aircraft registration number.
4)    Approximate position (e.g., closest WPT or NAVAID) of the aircraft during the contact.
5)    Flight call sign.
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6)    The narrative of the contact. The narrative must contain sufficient information to describe the event that prompted the en route communication. For example, if the communication is initiated to provide a position and fuel report, the narrative should include the position of the aircraft and the fuel on board. Any en route communications used to relay an amendment to a dispatch release must include the details of the amendment. See subparagraph 3-1937A to review the details that should be included in an amendment.
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D.    Retention of En Route Communication Records. Section 121.711(d) requires a certificate holder to retain en route communication records for at least 30 days. En route communications that relay an amendment to a dispatch release are governed by the requirements of § 121.695 and must be retained for 3 months. (See subparagraph 3-1937A.) Each certificate holder’s manual must specify the methods the certificate holder uses to retain en route communication records based on each type of communication system utilized by the certificate holder.

1)    Electronic Retention. A certificate holder who desires to retain en route communication records electronically must first obtain FAA acceptance and authorization to use an electronic recordkeeping system to retain the records. The FAA accepts and authorizes a certificate holder to use an electronic recordkeeping system through the issuance of OpSpec A025. Before approving electronic retention of en route communication records, POIs must confirm that the electronic retention includes a method to enter, store, and retrieve all the information required by § 121.711(c). POIs must follow the directives contained in Volume 3, Chapter 31, and review the current edition of AC 120-78 prior to authorizing a certificate holder to retain en route communication records electronically.
2)    Paper Retention. A certificate holder who retains en route communication records on paper must have policies and procedures to ensure the information required by § 121.711(c) is recorded for each en route communication and retained for either 30 days in accordance with § 121.711(d), or 3 months in accordance with § 121.695(b) for amendments to dispatch releases.
3)    Availability to the Administrator. In accordance with § 119.59(c), each employee of, or person used by, the certificate holder who is responsible for maintaining the certificate holder’s records must make those records available to the Administrator. Any certificate holder who retains an electronic voice recording of en route communications must have a method and/or device to provide voice recordings to the Administrator, upon request.
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3-1939    AIRWORTHINESS OF AIRCRAFT. Section 121.605 prohibits the dispatch or release of an aircraft unless it is Airworthy and has all required equipment installed, as prescribed in § 121.303. Sections 121.709 and 135.443 require that before an aircraft can be operated, it must have an airworthiness release (or appropriate logbook entry) and be signed by a properly authorized person. Information regarding compliance with the airworthiness requirements of 14 CFR can be found as follows:

    Compliance with § 121.303 is in Volume 10, Chapter 9, Section 1;

    Compliance with § 121.605 and the FAA-approved MEL requirements of § 121.628 is in Volume 4, Chapter 4, Section 1; and

    Compliance with §§ 121.709 and 135.443 is in Volume 3, Chapter 43, Sections 1 and 2.

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3-1940    CREW QUALIFICATION AND CREW FLIGHT TIME LIMITATIONS AND REST REQUIREMENTS. Each certificate holder is responsible for assigning specific personnel to operate each flight, including the designation of a PIC. Flightcrew members and certificate holders are jointly responsible for ensuring that flightcrew members are qualified in accordance with the regulations (including special airport qualifications) and are in compliance with flightcrew member duty and rest requirements before a flight departs. Certificate holders may delegate these responsibilities to a specific department such as crew scheduling; however, the certificate holder must establish procedures by which operational control personnel can verify that these requirements have been accomplished.

NOTE:  Certificate holders should have policies in place addressing flight segment (typically referred to as “leg”) assignment and the division of flightcrew members’ duties during critical phases of flight when environmental conditions (cold weather operations, wind shear, thunderstorms, etc.) are marginal or severe. Special consideration should be given to line flying experience and background qualifications in determining when the PIC may delegate control of the aircraft and under what adverse weather conditions control of the aircraft should be accomplished by the PIC.

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3-1941    CREW MEDICAL QUALIFICATION AND PROCEDURES DURING TEMPORARY MEDICAL DEFICIENCY.

A.    Responsibility of Certificate Holders and Flightcrew Members. Title 14 CFR part 61, § 61.53 and part 63, § 63.19 preclude required flightcrew members from flight duty while they have a known medical or physical deficiency. These sections rely solely on the ability of flightcrew members to honestly determine their medical fitness. It is incumbent on individual airmen to be certain that they have no illness or physical impairment that would affect their medical fitness for flight. The NTSB believes that air carrier certificate holders should share the responsibility for verifying flightcrew members’ medical fitness for flight duty. However, it is not always easy for certificate holders to determine the extent of a crewmember’s medical fitness. In order to maintain the highest level of safety, required flightcrew members must not fly under conditions that would make them unable to meet the requirements for their current medical certificate. This decision should not be influenced by fear of company reprisals.

B.    POI Responsibility. POIs should encourage their assigned air carriers to have established sick leave policies and procedures, especially those concerning the release of flightcrew members from duty when they develop sudden temporary illnesses such as colds, flu, or fevers. These policies and procedures should not discourage flightcrew members from taking sick leave when they are ill.

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RESERVED. Paragraphs 3-1942 through 3-1945.