The EASA has issued new regulations this year that permit the commercial use of single-engine turboprop aircraft in instrument meteorological conditions (SET-IMC or SETOps). This change raises hopes to expand both business and commercial aviation in Europe by allowing to serve city pairs that are currently connected only by ground transportation.
The European operator - COLDIRECT - has obtained approval from its national authority to operate commercial flights with the Pilatus PC-12 under instrument flight rules (IFR) already more than a year ago.
Until now, business travellers in France, a country known for its centralistic structures, in most cases had no choise but to oranise their air travel according to the motto "all routs run via Paris". Passengers living in the peripheral regions of what is Europe's third largest economy will certainly be familiar with the phenomenon. Recognising the problem , two entrepeneurs from Brittany, Frederic Caussarieu and Jean Paul Legendre, saw an opportunity to develop a new business model and set up the "VOLDIRECT" airline in 2009.
The company currently operates two aircraft flying direct routes from western France to destinations across Europe. The flagship of the fleet is the PC-12 NG flying under the call sign F-HOLI.
Positive Development in Europe
In a first phase, VOLDIRECT flights were only available to staff at seven companies in the region. In December 2015, however, the French aviation authorities approved VODIRECT to operate its PC-12 NG on a commercial basis. As a result, flights are now available to all passengers without restriction. Against payment, anyone who wants to can enjoy fast and comfortable travel across Europe aboard F-HOLI.
The path to official approval was a rocky one, requiring a great deal of hard work. Until recently, and in contrast to the rest of the world, commercial flights operated by single engine aircraft were not permitted at night or in weather requiring flight under instrument rules (IMC = instrument meteorological conditions) - even though there were no longer any technically plausible reasons to support such a stance.
Happily, things have moved forward in the recent past. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has agreed in principle to the change in June 2016 and drafted a proposal setting out the conditions in which single-engine commercial flights in IMC might be envisaged. The proposal has then finally been approved by the European Commission and the member states earlier this year. In that changed regulatory context, the Pilatus PC-12 NG opens up new perspectives for European operators. Due to its short-field capability, the PC-12 can operate from runways that twin turboprops cannot, allowing access to more destinations - 1,300 airfields available in Europe. The low operating cost of the PC=12 is another strong argument. Outside Europe the PC-12 NG has been authorized to operate commercially for many years and has found popularity in a number of roles - executive transport, cargo, air ambulance.
Development of a new Passenger Oxygen Mask System
Pioneers such as Hendell Aviation, a Finnish PC-12 operator, and VOLDIRECT, who have succeeded in negotiating an exemption from the European rules with their national aviation authorities, have been of enormous help in driving things forward.
Pilatus provided assistance to VOLDIRECT with its efforts in this direction by for example developing a new system to provide oxygen masks which are automatically presented to passengers in the event of an emergency. In the standard PC-12, the masks are stowed in the side panels. This meant VOLDIRECT was subject to a restriction on its commercial PC-12 operations: instead of approval up to altitudes of 30,000 feet, the flight was limited to a maximum of 25,000 feet. The French authorities would not cancel this restriction until the emergency oxygen masks were reconfigured to drop automatically from the ceitling in front of the passenger - as is the norm in today's commercial airliners.
The newly developed option can now be ordered ex works for new aircraft, and also for retrofitting in earlier PC-12. Pilatus has already equipped two aircraft, including F-HOLI, with the new system.
VOLDIRECT Climbing High
And so VOLDIRECT flights have become available to everyone. In addition to ferrying business travellers around Europe during the week, F-HOLI is also often used for private travel at the weekend. The convenience of being able to fly direct to their destination naturally holds great appeal for customers and VOLDIRECT has become a much appreciated partner to many businesses and residents in Brittany and more generally in the west of France. Frederic Caussarieu comments that VOLDIRECT was originally set up to operate out of Rennes, serving clients based in Brittany. Having identified buoyant demand for their successful niche product - direct commercial flights with their PC-12 - the two entrepreneurs now hope to take their offering to other regions across France.