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Volume 3  GENERAL TECHNICAL ADMINISTRATION

CHAPTER 25  OPERATIONAL CONTROL FOR AIR CARRIERS

Section 3 Part 121 Flight Release Systems and Supplemental Operating Rules

3-1971    GENERAL. This section contains information for inspectors regarding Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 121 flight release systems and the release of flights under the part 121 requirements applicable to certificate holders conducting supplemental operations.

A.    Persons Authorized to Exercise Operational Control. In accordance with part 121, § 121.537, each certificate holder conducting supplemental operations is responsible for operational control. The pilot in command (PIC) and the certificate holder’s Director of Operations (DO) are jointly responsible for the initiation, continuation, diversion, and termination of a flight. The DO may delegate the authority to perform operational control functions to other persons; however, the director retains the responsibility. Persons designated by the DO to exercise operational control are often referred to as flight followers.

1)    Section 121.537(a)(2) requires the certificate holder to list the name of each person authorized to exercise operational control in its operation manual, which is often referred to as a General Operations Manual (GOM).
2)    Certificate holders conducting supplemental operations may contract with other certificate holders or organizations to provide certain elements of an operational control system, such as communications, flight following, etc. In such a case, the certificate holder must list the name of each employee of the contracting organization authorized to provide such elements of operational control in their GOM. If an emergency situation arises during flight that is known to personnel of the contracting organization, those personnel will advise the PIC of the emergency, ascertain the decision of the PIC, and have the decision recorded. If they cannot communicate with the PIC, they will declare an emergency and take any action that they consider necessary under the circumstances.

B.    Release Authority. PICs are responsible for preflight planning and the safe conduct of the flight. Section 121.597 prohibits a supplemental flight from departing, however, without the specific authority from the person designated to exercise operational control over the flight. The PIC or the person authorized to exercise operational control must prepare a flight release containing the specific conditions under which the flight can be conducted safely. The PIC must sign the flight release before the flight may depart. In accordance with § 121.597(b), a PIC may sign the release only when he or she and the person authorized to exercise operational control agree that the flight can be safely conducted as planned. Inspectors must ensure that the certificate holder’s GOM contains specific procedures to ensure that the certificate holder, PICs, and persons authorized to exercise operational control are in compliance with this requirement. Unless the PIC decides it is unsafe to do so, the PIC must conduct the flight in accordance with the flight release.

C.    Flight Monitoring. The certificate holder, in accordance with § 121.125, is responsible for ensuring the proper monitoring of the progress of each flight with respect to its departure from its point of origin and arrival at its destination, including intermediate stops. Section 121.537(c) requires that the DO take action to delay, divert, or cancel a flight when, in the opinion of the DO or the PIC, the flight cannot be operated safely as planned or released. The DO, or the person designated by the DO to exercise operational control, must actively review the conditions surrounding each flight to comply with this requirement.

D.    Demonstration of Competency of Persons Designated to Exercise Operational Control. Title 14 CFR part 119, § 119.65(d) requires anyone in a position to exercise control over operations to be qualified through training, experience, and expertise. Section 121.127(b) requires that the certificate holder show that each individual authorized to conduct operational control is able to perform the required duties. This rule applies to both employees of the certificate holder and to contract personnel the certificate holder authorizes to perform required duties. The preferred means a certificate holder may use to meet this requirement is to establish a training and qualification program for persons designated to exercise operational control, which includes competency checks, and which meets the requirements of Volume 3, Chapter 22.

3-1972    FAMILIARITY WITH WEATHER CONDITIONS, FACILITIES, AND SERVICES. In accordance with § 121.603, a PIC may not begin a flight unless he or she is thoroughly familiar with reported and forecasted weather conditions on the route to be flown and until the PIC has obtained all available reports on airport conditions and irregularities of navigation facilities that may affect the safety of the flight. During the flight, the PIC must obtain any additional available information on meteorological conditions and facilities that may affect the safety of the flight. The certificate holder is responsible for ensuring that the PIC has the means to obtain this information. In accordance with § 121.122(a), each certificate holder conducting supplemental operations other than all-cargo operations in an airplane with more than two engines must show that a two-way radio communications system is available. This in-flight communications system allows the certificate holder to deliver information regarding current weather, facility, and service conditions to the PIC. A certificate holder may contract with a commercial communications service provider to comply with this requirement.

3-1973    FLIGHT RELEASE SYSTEM FACILITIES. Each certificate holder conducting supplemental operations must have an approved flight release system. The flight release system must be described or referenced in paragraph A008 of the certificate holder’s operations specifications (OpSpecs). Most flight release systems are too complex to be described in a single paragraph; therefore, the preferred practice is for the system to be described in the certificate holder’s GOM, and referenced in paragraph A008 of the certificate holder’s OpSpecs.

A.    Flight Following Centers. The certificate holder must provide one or more flight following centers to control and monitor the progress of each flight. For supplemental operations, other than all-cargo operations in an airplane with more than two engines, each flight following center must be equipped with a two-way radio communication system or other means of a communication system approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The certificate holder must ensure that this communication system allows for reliable and rapid communication under normal operating conditions over the entire route between each airplane and the certificate holder.

B.    Certificate Holder Responsibilities. If a certificate holder conducting supplemental operations has contracted with other organizations to provide operational control functions, the certificate holder retains the responsibility for ensuring the adequacy of all facilities, access to communications and information sources, the adequacy of policies and procedures, and the competency of other persons designated to exercise operational control (whether or not the certificate holder or a contracting party provides them).

C.    Certified Personnel. There is no requirement for persons designated to exercise operational control to have aircraft dispatcher certificates; however, principal operations inspectors (POI) should strongly encourage certificate holders to employ certified personnel in this capacity.

D.    Training Program and GOM Requirements. Inspectors must ensure that the certificate holder’s training program and GOM contain adequate policy, guidance, procedures, and training for operational control personnel to perform their assigned duties, comply with regulatory requirements, and to ensure safe operations in normal, abnormal, and emergency circumstances. Flight followers must be familiar with, and have access to, the certificate holder’s GOM when on duty.

3-1974    FLIGHT RELEASE FORM. A flight release form must be completed before each flight.
Section 121.689(a) and (b) specifies that a flight release must contain at least the following information:

·    Company or organization name.

·    Make, model, and registration number of the aircraft.

·    Flight or trip number.

·    Date of flight.

·    Name of each flightcrew member, flight attendant (F/A), and the pilot designated as PIC.

·    Departure airport, destination airport, and alternate airports.

·    Route of flight.

·    Minimum fuel supply (in gallons or pounds).

·    Type of operation (such as instrument flight rules (IFR) and visual flight rules (VFR)).

Indicates new/changed information.

·    Weather reports, available weather forecasts (or a combination thereof) for the destination airport and alternate airports that are the latest available at the time the PIC signs the flight release. (Print these on or attach them to the flight release.)

·    For each flight released as an Extended Operations (ETOPS) flight, the ETOPS diversion time for which the flight is released.

3-1975    WEATHER REQUIREMENTS FOR FLIGHT RELEASE WITHIN THE CONTIGUOUS STATES. Inspectors must ensure that certificate holders are aware of the weather requirements for the release of supplemental flights within the contiguous states. Volume 3, Chapter 25, Section 4, contains a discussion of flight release requirements for the release of flights to, from, or outside the contiguous states.

A.    Flight Release Under VFR. Section 121.611 prohibits any person from dispatching or releasing a flight for VFR operations unless the ceiling and visibility en route and at the destination airport are VFR and will remain above applicable VFR minimums until the aircraft arrives at the airport or airports specified in the flight release.

NOTE:  Part 121 flights may not be released under VFR rules unless specifically authorized in the certificate holder’s OpSpecs.

B.    IFR Takeoff Weather Minimums. Section 121.651(a) prohibits the release of a flight when the weather at the departure airport is reported to be less than the takeoff minimums specified in paragraph C056, IFR Takeoff Minimums, Part 121 Operations—All Airports, of the certificate holder’s OpSpecs. However, § 121.617 allows the weather conditions to be below the landing minimums specified in the certificate holder’s OpSpecs at the departure airport if the flight release specifies an alternate airport for departure, commonly referred to as a takeoff alternate. The takeoff alternate must meet the following conditions:

1)    For a two-engine airplane, the takeoff alternate is not more than 1 hour from the departure airport at normal cruising speed, in still air, and with one engine inoperative.
2)    For an airplane with three or more engines, the takeoff alternate is not more than 2 hours from the departure airport at normal cruising speed, in still air, and with one engine inoperative.
3)    The weather conditions at the designated takeoff alternate airport meet the requirements of paragraph C055 of the certificate holder’s OpSpecs.

C.    Destination Weather—IFR Operations. Section 121.613 prohibits a certificate holder from releasing a flight under IFR or over-the-top rules unless the weather reports and forecasts indicate that the weather will be at or above minimums required by the OpSpecs at the destination airport at the estimated time of arrival (ETA). Category I minimums are authorized in paragraphs C053 and C054 of the OpSpecs. Category II and III minimums are authorized in paragraphs C059 and C060 of the OpSpecs, respectively.

D.    Alternate Requirements. Section 121.623(a) prohibits certificate holders conducting supplemental operations from releasing a flight under IFR or over-the-top rules unless at least one alternate airport is listed in the flight release for each destination airport. For supplemental operations conducted outside of the 48 contiguous states over routes without an available alternate airport, the fuel requirements of §§ 121.643(c) and 121.645(c) apply based on the type of aircraft being operated. The airports for which there is no available destination alternate should be listed in the certificate holder’s OpSpec paragraph C067, in accordance with Volume 3, Chapter 18, Section 5, OpSpec C067.

3-1976    FUEL REQUIREMENTS. Inspectors must be aware of the fuel requirements for supplemental flights operating within the 48 contiguous states as well as for flights operating outside of the 48 contiguous states.

A.    Flights Conducted Within the 48 Contiguous United States. In accordance with § 121.645(e), for supplemental operations conducted within the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia with a turbine‑engine‑powered airplane, the fuel requirements of § 121.643 apply. (The fuel planning provisions of § 121.643 apply to all nonturbine and turbopropeller supplemental flights.)

B.    Flights Conducted Outside of the 48 Contiguous United States. For flights conducted outside of the 48 contiguous states, the requirements of § 121.645(a) through (d) apply.

NOTE:  Section 121.647 applies to all operations conducted under part 121.

C.    Required Fuel Supply. When conducting supplemental operations, a certificate holder may not release a flight and a pilot cannot take off unless, considering winds and forecast weather conditions, the flight carries all of the following types of fuel:

1)    En Route Fuel. That fuel necessary for a flight to reach the airport to which it is released, and then to conduct one instrument approach and a possible missed approach.
2)    Alternate Fuel. That fuel necessary for a flight to fly from the point of completion of the missed approach at the destination airport to the most distant alternate airport, make an IFR approach (if the forecast indicates such conditions will exist), and then complete a landing.
3)    Reserve Fuel.
a)    For Operations Outside of the 48 Contiguous States. The fuel required to fly for a period of 10 percent of the total time required to fly from the airport of departure to, and land at, the airport to which it was released (§ 121.645(b)(2)).
b)    For Operations Within the 48 Contiguous States. The fuel required for a flight to fly for 45 minutes at normal cruising fuel consumption (§ 121.639(c)).
4)    Contingency Fuel. That fuel necessary for a flight to compensate for any known traffic delays and to compensate for any other condition that may delay the landing of the flight (§ 121.647).

NOTE:  The certificate holder’s GOM should contain specific policies and instructions to PICs and persons authorized to exercise operational control for computing the amount of contingency fuel to be carried under the circumstances likely to be encountered in the certificate holder’s specific operation.

D.    Departure Fuel. Sections 121.643 and 121.645 require that the fuel listed in subparagraphs 3-1976A through C be on board the aircraft at takeoff. The required fuel must be specified in the flight release. The certificate holder’s GOM should include procedures regarding this fuel requirement for pilots and persons authorized to exercise operational control. Procedures should also ensure that PICs and the person authorized to exercise operational control of the flight must include an additional increment of fuel for startup, taxi, and predeparture delays.

3-1977    AMENDMENT OF A FLIGHT RELEASE. In the absence of an emergency, a flight may only proceed to the destination to which it was originally released. If the flight is unable to land at the original destination, it may only proceed to the designated alternate airport. Section 121.631 allows, however, for an original flight release to be amended while the flight is en route. An amendment may become necessary or desirable because the conditions under which the flight was released have changed (unplanned rerelease) or because it may have been planned before departure.

A.    Destination Weather Requirements While En Route. Section 121.603(b) requires PICs to obtain any information on weather and facilities that may affect the safety of flight while flights are airborne. Part 121 does not prohibit a flight from continuing toward a destination which has gone below landing minimums or one which is forecast to be below landing minimums at the ETA by a forecast issued after the flight has departed. For example, there may be enough fuel on board to hold overhead the destination until the weather is forecast to improve. Section 121.627(a) does, however, prohibit the flight from continuing to the destination when, in the opinion of the PIC, it is unsafe to do so. POIs should ensure that the certificate holder’s GOM provides guidance to both PICs and persons authorized to exercise operational control for dealing with these circumstances.

B.    Alternate Weather Requirements While En Route. Section 121.631(b) prohibits the flight from continuing to a destination airport unless the weather conditions at the alternate airport (specified in the flight release) are forecast to be at, or above, the required alternate minimums at the ETA at the alternate airport.

1)    An alternate airport may be named, which is below alternate minimums at the time of release, but which is forecast to be above minimums at the ETA. POIs should ensure that the certificate holder’s GOM contains specific procedures, however, for notifying the PIC and for monitoring the weather at the alternate airport when the selected alternate airport is below minimums at departure. These procedures may require the designation of a second alternate airport or that contingency fuel must be carried on the flight.
2)    Ceiling, visibility, and items such as the condition of Navigational Aids (NAVAID), runway lighting, and snow removal operations can affect alternate minimums. PICs and persons authorized to exercise operational control must monitor these factors at designated alternate airports.

C.    Requirements to Amend a Flight Release. Section 121.631(f) and (g) requires that before a destination airport or an alternate airport may be changed, the following conditions must be met:

1)    The change must be jointly approved by the PIC and the person designated to exercise operational control of the flight.
2)    The PIC must be thoroughly familiar with reported and forecast weather conditions (including adverse weather) and the status of communications, navigation, and airport facilities.
3)    The destination and alternate airports specified in the amended release must be forecast to be above the weather minimums required in the certificate holder’s OpSpecs for the destination and alternate airports, respectively, at the ETA.
4)    The aircraft must have sufficient fuel on board at the time and point that the release was amended to complete the flight in compliance with the applicable fuel requirements.
5)    Each person who amends a flight release must record that amendment.

D.    Preplanned Amendment of a Flight Release. A part 121 certificate holder may only conduct planned rerelease operations when authorized by paragraph B044 of the certificate holder’s OpSpecs. Volume 3, Chapter 25, Section 4, contains a discussion of planned rerelease procedures.

NOTE:  Paragraph B044 does not apply to domestic operations within the 48 contiguous states.

3-1978    EN ROUTE TERRAIN CLEARANCE. Part 121 subpart I contains the limitations on weights at which aircraft may be released due to terrain clearance requirements. While these limitations apply to all types of aircraft operated under part 121, they are particularly restrictive to two-engine aircraft operated in the western part of the United States. Inspectors should be aware that to meet the limitations of subpart I, certificate holders may be required to limit takeoff weights or to list en route alternate airports on the flight release (see Volume 4, Chapter 3).

RESERVED. Paragraphs 3-1979 through 3-1995.