Rate Change for Air Taxi Flights

Due to a recent requirement by the FAA for Flying M Air to install a radio altimeter for all Part 135 charter flights, Flying M Air has been forced to raise rates for these flights.

Radio Altimeter Requirement

A radio (or radar) altimeter is a piece of electronics equipment that uses radio waves to calculate the exact distance from the ground. It utilizes two antennas — one to transmit and one to receive the signal — that must be mounted at the bottom of the aircraft, as well as a component that interprets this information. Another piece of equipment provides a readout with audible warning system for the pilot and must be mounted with a special bracket on the helicopter’s panel since our panel is already full of instruments and there is no room for the readout.

If you think this is as unfair as we do, we urge you to contact your member of Congress. Ask them why a small business should be forced by U.S. regulations to buy a costly piece of equipment that won’t make its operations any better or safer. If you get an answer that makes sense, we’d love to hear it.

It’s important to note that Flying M Air is a VFR-only operation. That means we are only allowed to fly when visibility meets or exceeds minimums established by the FAA for the airspace we’re in. We have no real need for this new instrument because we can always see the ground in flight. Because of this, we consider the FAA’s radar altimeter requirement for VFR-only operators like us unreasonable. We have tried several times to get a waiver of this requirement, which is allowed by the new rule. But as many of us know, the government isn’t always reasonable and this time, we’re required to pay the price.

At this point, the equipment has not yet been installed. We’re in the process of locating an avionics shop that can do the work timely at a good price. So far, cost estimates for this equipment range from $13,500 to $20,000 and it will take a full week to install. With cherry season approaching quickly, we cannot take the helicopter offline for installation until after August. The FAA tells us that if we provide evidence that we’ve ordered the equipment and scheduled an installation, they will grant a temporary waiver to allow us to continue flying Part 135 flights. We’re working to comply.

What this Means to You

Part 135 covers any flight that transports a passenger to a different location from a starting point as well as flights over 25 statute miles from the starting point. This includes all air taxi flights and tours beyond a 25-mile radius from the starting point.

How does this affect our clients? Since the equipment is not required for anything other than Part 135 flights, we see no reason to pass the costs on to our aerial photo, aerial survey, Part 91 LOA tour, or agricultural services clients, since none of the flights we conduct for them are done under Part 135. Instead, we’ve decided to recoup some of the expenses for this equipment by charging a $25 landing fee for each landing done as part of a Part 135 flight.

So, for example, if you book a one-way flight to Cave B Inn, you’d pay our normal $545/hour rate plus a $25 landing fee. If you book a wine tasting flight to Tsillan Cellars, a total of $50 ($25 per landing) would be included in the new tour fee of $595. If you book a custom air-taxi flight, you’ll pay our normal $545/hour rate plus $25 for each landing we make with you on board.

Although we really don’t want to change our rates, Flying M Air already operates on very slim margins. Without this price increase, the cost of the altimeter would be a severe blow to our bottom line in a year when we’re still reeling from the financial effects of a $219,000 overhaul. Simply said, we can’t afford to absorb this cost on our own and must pass it on to the clients who “benefit” from it.