Enhance Safety of Revenue Passenger-Carrying Operations Conducted Under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91

What Happened

​​​The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has a long history of concerns about the safety of various revenue passenger-carrying operations conducted under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. These operations, which carry thousands of passengers for compensation or hire each year, are not held to the same maintenance, airworthiness, and operational standards as air carrier, commuter and on-demand, and air tour operations conducted under 14 CFR Parts 121, 135, and 136, respectively.

Some commercial operations that carry passengers for compensation or hire are excepted from 14 CFR Part 119, Certification: Air Carriers and Commercial Operators, which provides the requirements that an operator must meet to obtain and hold a certificate authorizing operations under Parts 121 or 135. As indicated in 14 CFR 119.1(e), these excepted operations include certain nonstop commercial air tour flights, sightseeing flights conducted in hot air balloons, and nonstop intentional parachute jump flights.

Operators providing living history flight experience sightseeing flights can be exempted from other Part 119 regulations and certain Part 91 regulations. These revenue passenger-carrying flights are conducted aboard historically significant aircraft that were formerly operated in US military service.

Glider sightseeing flights are conducted under Part 91 because they are omitted from Parts 121 and 135 and are not covered by Part 136 commercial air tour rules. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), although glider sightseeing operations are not explicitly excepted from Part 119, “such operations would not need to be conducted under the authority of a part 119 certificate.”

In addition, some Part 91 revenue passenger-carrying operators have exploited specific 14 CFR 119.1(e) exceptions by carrying revenue passengers for purposes other than the exceptions intended, allowing them to avoid more stringent regulatory requirements. For example, some operators carry passengers under the premise of student instruction or training flights, which are excepted from the requirements of 14 CFR 119.1(e). Although these operators might provide some flight training, most of their operations involve flights with another intended purpose, such as air combat/extreme aerobatic experience flights and tour flights.

Members of the public who pay to participate in Part 91 revenue passenger-carrying activities are likely unaware that these operations have less stringent requirements than other commercial aviation operations. Although the types of Part 91 revenue passenger-carrying operations are diverse, the need for greater safety requirements and more comprehensive oversight applies to all of these operations. 

Related Reports:

​Case no.​Location and date​Description
​Honolulu, Hawaii, 2/18/16​Part 119-excepted activity—nonstop commercial air tour flight with a letter of authorization
DCA16MA204​Lockhart, Texas, 7/30/16​Part 119-excepted activity—hot air balloon sightseeing flight
​WPR19MA177​Mokuleia, Hawaii, 6/21/19​Part 119-excepted activity—parachute jump flight
​ERA20MA001​Windsor Locks, Connecticut, 10/2/19​Part 91- and 119-exempted activity—LHFE sightseeing flight
ERA18FA238​Morrisville, Vermont, 8/29/18​Part 119-omitted activity—glider sightseeing flight
​WPR18FA013​ Four Corners, California, 10/21/17​Part 119-exploited activity—air combat/extreme aerobatic experience flight operating as student instruction
​WPR11LA081​Poipu, Hawaii, 12/22/10​Part 119-exploited activity—tour flight operating as student instruction
ERA18MA099​ New York, New York, 3/11/18​Part 119-exploited activity—nonstop commercial air tour flight operating as an aerial photography flight

What We Found

  1. ​​The Federal Aviation Administration has a responsibility to bolster regulations and oversight for all revenue passenger-carrying operations currently conducted under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 to ensure an increased level of safety for those participants who pay for these flights.

  2. Some operators have been exploiting and/or inappropriately capitalizing on the exceptions contained in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations 119.1(e) to avoid the additional requirements and oversight intended to apply to the types of revenue passenger-carrying operations being conducted.

  3. Because of a regulatory omission, commercial glider sightseeing flights have essentially been operating with almost no oversight.

  4. The Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight and surveillance of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 revenue passenger-carrying operations do not ensure that these operators are properly maintaining their aircraft and safely conducting operations.

  5. The lack of a national database for revenue passenger-carrying operations currently conducted under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 precludes the Federal Aviation Administration from ensuring that its inspectors are overseeing all of these operators.

  6. The implementation of a safety management system for all revenue passenger-carrying operators currently operating under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 would help company managers, pilots, and other employees identify and mitigate risks and promote the safety of these operations.

  7. Federal Aviation Administration oversight of a revenue passenger-carrying operator’s safety management system would help ensure that the system is adequately identifying and appropriately mitigating safety risks.

What We Recommended

​We made recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration.​