[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 233 (Tuesday, December 4, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 71735-71741]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-29274]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Federal Aviation Administration

14 CFR Parts 121, 125, 135

[Docket No.: FAA-2012-1059; Notice No. 12-08]
RIN 2120-AK11


Minimum Altitudes for Use of Autopilots

AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DOT.

ACTION: Notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

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SUMMARY: The FAA proposes to amend and harmonize minimum altitudes for 
use of autopilots for transport category airplanes. The proposed rule 
would enable the operational use of advanced autopilot and navigation 
systems by incorporating the capabilities of new and future autopilots, 
flight guidance systems, and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) 
guidance systems while protecting the continued use of legacy systems 
at current autopilot minimum use altitudes. The proposed rule would 
accomplish this through a performance-based approach, using the 
certified capabilities of autopilot systems as established by the 
Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) or as approved by the Administrator.

DATES: Send comments on or before February 4, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Send comments identified by docket number Docket No.: FAA-
2012-1059 using any of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for sending your 
comments electronically.
     Mail: Send comments to Docket Operations, M-30; U.S. 
Department of Transportation (DOT), 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Room 
W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
     Hand Delivery or Courier: Take comments to Docket 
Operations in Room W12-140 of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 
New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., 
Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
     Fax: Fax comments to Docket Operations at 202-493-2251.
    Privacy: The FAA will post all comments it receives, without 
change, to http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal 
information the commenter provides. Using the search function of the 
docket Web site, anyone can find and read the electronic form of all 
comments received into any FAA docket, including the name of the 
individual sending the comment (or signing the comment for an 
association, business, labor union, etc.). DOT's complete Privacy Act 
Statement can be found in the Federal Register published on April 11, 
2000 (65 FR 19477-19478), as well as at http://DocketsInfo.dot.gov.
    Docket: Background documents or comments received may be read at 
http://www.regulations.gov at any time. Follow the online instructions 
for accessing the docket or go to the Docket Operations in Room W12-140 
of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., 
Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, 
except Federal holidays.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For technical questions concerning 
this action, contact Kel O. Christianson, FAA, Aviation Safety 
Inspector, Performance Based Flight Systems Branch (AFS-470), Flight 
Standards Service, Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence 
Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20591; telephone 202-385-4702; email 
Kel.christianson@faa.gov.
    For legal questions concerning this action, contact Robert H. 
Frenzel, Manager, Operations Law Branch, Office of the Chief Counsel, 
Regulations Division (AGC-220), Federal Aviation Administration, 800 
Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20591; telephone 202-267-3073; 
email Robert.Frenzel@faa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Authority for This Rulemaking

    The FAA's authority to issue rules on aviation safety is found in 
Title 49 of the United States Code. This rulemaking is promulgated 
under the authority described in 49 U.S.C. 44701(a)(5), which requires 
the Administrator to promulgate regulations and minimum standards for 
other practices, methods, and procedures necessary for safety in air 
commerce and national security. This amendment to the regulation is 
within the scope of that authority because it prescribes an accepted 
method for ensuring the safe operation of aircraft while using 
autopilot systems.

I. Overview of Proposed Rule

    The FAA proposes to amend and harmonize minimum altitudes for use 
of autopilots for transport category airplanes in order to streamline 
and simplify these operational rules. The proposed rule would enable 
the operational use of advanced autopilot and navigation systems by 
incorporating the capabilities of new and future autopilots, flight 
guidance systems, and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) 
guidance systems while protecting the continued use of legacy systems. 
This would allow the FAA to enable the benefits of Next Generation Air 
Transportation System (NextGen) technologies and procedures (Optimized 
Profile Descents, Performance Based Navigation (PBN)) to enhance 
aviation safety in the National Airspace System (NAS). The rule would 
accomplish this through a performance-based approach, using the 
certified capabilities of autopilot systems as established by the 
Airplane Flight Manual (AFM). The proposal would also give the FAA 
Administrator the authorization to require an altitude higher than the 
AFM if the Administrator believes it to be in the interest of public 
safety.
    Currently, operators have a choice whether or not to update their 
aircraft with new autopilots as they are developed and certified by 
equipment manufacturers. This rule would not affect that decision-
making process and would protect operators who choose to continue to 
operate as they do today. As a result, the proposed rule would not 
impose any additional costs on certificate holders that operate under 
parts 121, 125, or 135. Also, by setting new minimum altitudes for each 
phase of flight that certified equipment may operate to, the proposed 
rule would give manufacturers more certainty that new products could be 
used as they are developed.
    In response to Executive Order 13563 issued by President Obama on 
January 18, 2011, the proposed rule was first identified for inclusion 
in the Department of Transportation Retrospective Regulatory Review 
(May 2011), noting that the current minimum altitudes for use of 
autopilots were unduly restrictive and would limit the ability to use 
new technologies. On May 10, 2012, President Obama signed Executive 
Order 13610, establishing the Retrospective Regulatory Review as an on-
going obligation. The proposed rule would also be consistent with the 
requirement in Executive Order 13610 to modify or streamline 
regulations ``in light of changed circumstances, including the rise of 
new technologies.''

[[Page 71736]]

II. Background

A. Statement of the Problem

    The FAA and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) technical standards for 
autopilot systems date back to 1947. These standards have been revised 
eight times since 1959, but the operating rules for autopilot minimum 
use altitudes in 14 CFR 121.579, 125.329, and 135.93 have not been 
amended in any significant way since the recodification of the Civil 
Aviation Regulations (CAR) and Civil Aviation Manuals (CAM) on December 
31, 1964.
    By contrast, autopilot certification standards contained in Sec.  
25.1329 were updated as recently as April 11, 2006. Consequently, 
operational regulations in parts 121, 125, and 135 do not adequately 
reflect the capabilities of modern technologies in use today and thus 
make it difficult to keep pace with the FAA's implementation of 
NextGen.

B. History

1994 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)
    The FAA published an NPRM in the Federal Register on December 9, 
1994 (59 FR 63868) based on a recommendation from the Autopilot 
Engagement Working Group of the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee 
(ARAC) to change the existing rules concerning engagement of autopilots 
during takeoff. The ARAC determined that the increased use of an 
autopilot during takeoff would enhance aviation safety by giving pilots 
greater situational awareness of what was going on inside and outside 
of the aircraft. This benefit would be realized by reducing the task 
loading required to manually fly the aircraft during the critical 
takeoff phase of flight. The FAA received seven comments in response to 
the NPRM, and all commenters supported an amendment to the rule.
1997 Rulemaking
    In 1997, the FAA amended 14 CFR 121.579, 125.329, and 135.93 to 
permit certificate holders the use of an approved autopilot system for 
takeoff, based on the 1994 NPRM and an expectation that autopilot 
technology would continue to advance (62 FR 27922; May 21, 1997). This 
authorization was given to certificate holders through an Operations 
Specification (OpSpec), which was implemented as a stopgap measure. The 
rule itself was not changed to provide manufacturers and operators the 
guidance for producing and operating new aircraft capable of attaining 
lower autopilot minimum use altitudes. The amendment also failed to 
address autopilot minimum use altitudes on instrument approaches or 
harmonize 14 CFR parts 121, 125 and 135.
ARAC Efforts To Amend Autopilot Rules
    Since 1997, multiple groups have been formed to review current 
regulations and autopilot technologies. The FAA Transport Airplane 
Directorate initiated an effort under the ARAC Flight Guidance 
Harmonization Working Group to evaluate the status of current autopilot 
technologies, rules and guidance along with the harmonization of U.S. 
policy and guidance with the Joint Aviation Authorities. Later, the 
Performance-based operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which 
established the Autopilot Minimum Use Height (MUH) action team, 
evaluated autopilot minimum use altitudes and made recommendations to 
the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety. The team was 
specifically tasked with developing recommendations to address progress 
in the area of PBN and the subsets of area navigation (RNAV) and 
required navigation performance (RNP) operations. The team's 
conclusions aligned with the previous groups' acknowledgement that 14 
CFR 121.579, 125.329 and 135.93 were outdated and recommended new 
rulemaking to take advantage of advancements in modern aircraft 
technologies and the certified capabilities of autopilot systems to 
create a performance-based structure to aid in the implementation of 
NextGen flight operations.

III. Discussion of the Proposal

A. Revise Minimum Altitudes for Use of Autopilot (Sec.  121.579, 
125.329 and 135.93)

    The FAA proposes a complete rewrite of 14 CFR 121.579, 125.329 and 
135.93. The language in each section of the proposed regulations would 
be identical except for an additional paragraph in Sec.  135.93 
exempting rotorcraft. The proposed rule would harmonize these three 
parts of 14 CFR because the rule would be based on the performance 
capabilities of the equipment being utilized, not the operating 
certificate held. Nothing in the proposed rule would prevent or 
adversely affect the continued safe operation of aircraft using legacy 
navigation systems.
    The proposed rule would align the autopilot operational rules with 
the new autopilot certification standards contained in Sec.  25.1329, 
updated and effective April 11, 2006. The proposed rule would also be 
proactive by allowing for future technological advances within the 
scope of the rule, thus facilitating the implementation of NextGen into 
the National Airspace System.
    In effect, the proposed rule would accommodate future technological 
changes by setting safe minimum altitudes in each phase of flight that 
certified autopilots could operate to. Once a new piece of equipment or 
system is certified and the new limitations incorporated in the AFM, as 
required in Sec. Sec.  21.5, 25.1501 and 25.1581, a certificate holder 
might then make use of the new capabilities when authorized through 
OpSpecs. This change would enable new autopilots to utilize both 
current and future navigational systems. The current rule only 
references ground-based instrument approach facilities and Instrument 
Landing Systems (ILS).
    Sections 121.579(a), 125.329(a), and 135.93(a) of the proposed rule 
would define altitude references for the different phases of flight, 
unlike the current rule which defines all altitudes with reference to 
terrain. All altitudes referring to takeoff, initial climb and go 
around/missed approach would be defined as being above airport 
elevation. All altitudes referring to enroute flight would be defined 
as being above terrain elevation. All altitudes referring to approach 
would be defined as being above Touchdown Zone Elevation (TDZE), except 
if the altitude is in reference to a Decision Altitude/Height (DA(H)) 
or Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA) in which case the altitude would be 
defined in relation to the DA(H) or MDA itself (e.g. 50 ft. below 
DA(H)). All altitudes defined as being above airport elevation, TDZE, 
or terrain would be considered to be above ground level (AGL).
    As a result, the proposed rule would allow operators to add the 
applicable altitudes or heights published in the AFM to the airport and 
TDZE published on the instrument approach plate. This also would 
provide a standard reference for all operators and manufacturers using 
and producing Flight Management Systems (FMS).
    The proposed rule would be formatted to model the actual phases of 
flight: Takeoff through landing or go-around. Each paragraph in the 
proposed rule would have a base minimum autopilot use altitude for the 
intended phase of flight that all aircraft may utilize. In order to 
protect the use of all legacy systems, the proposed base altitudes 
would remain identical to the altitudes in the current rule. Lower 
minimum use altitudes would be based on certification of the autopilot 
system and limitations found in the AFM. The

[[Page 71737]]

proposed enroute minimum use altitude would not change from the current 
rule. The minimum use altitude in each paragraph might also be raised 
by the Administrator if warranted by operational or safety need.

B. Takeoff and Initial Climb (Sec. Sec.  121.579(b), 125.329(b) and 
135.93(b))

    The current rule defines the base minimum altitude at which all 
aircraft may engage the autopilot after takeoff as 500 ft. or double 
the autopilot altitude loss (as specified in the AFM) above the 
terrain, whichever is higher. The current rule also gives the 
Administrator the authority to use OpSpecs to authorize a lower minimum 
engagement altitude on takeoff, which must be specified in the AFM. 
This takeoff paragraph was added as an amendment to the original 
autopilot rule that applied only to enroute operations. Although the 
amendment provided a vehicle to allow lower autopilot minimum use 
altitudes through OpSpecs, it did not place the authority for the 
operations directly in the rule.
    The proposed rule would retain the same minimum altitudes for all 
aircraft to protect legacy systems and would introduce the ability to 
use lower engagement altitude on takeoff/initial climb based upon the 
certified limits of the autopilot as specified in the AFM. The proposed 
rule would also give the Administrator the authority to specify an 
altitude above, but not below, that specified in the AFM.
    As a result, the proposed rule would establish the AFM as a 
performance-based standard by which a certificate holder might be 
authorized for operations through its OpSpecs. Once an autopilot's 
capabilities and limitations are certified and reflected in the AFM, a 
certificate holder might request a change to its OpSpecs to authorize 
use of the new minimum use altitude specified in the AFM.

C. Enroute (Sec. Sec.  121.579(c), 125.329(c) and 135.93(c))

    The enroute paragraph of the current rule specifies a minimum use 
altitude of 500 ft. above terrain, or an altitude that is no lower than 
twice the autopilot altitude loss specified in the AFM, whichever is 
higher, for all operations. The proposed rule would maintain the same 
base minimum use altitude as the current rule. The proposed rule would 
also grant the Administrator the authority to specify a higher 
altitude.

D. Approach (Sec. Sec.  121.579(d), 125.329(d), 135.93(d))

    The base minimum use altitude for an approach for the proposed rule 
would remain the same as that of the current rule. No person may use an 
autopilot at an altitude lower than 50 ft. below the DA (H) or MDA of 
the instrument approach being flown. The current rule allows for 
exceptions to this altitude with the use of a coupled autopilot, 
instrument landing system (ILS), and in specified reported weather 
conditions. The proposed rule would maintain the limitation that no 
person may use an autopilot at an altitude lower than 50 ft. below the 
DA(H) or MDA of the approach being flown and provides weather criteria 
that would allow current aircraft to meet the same autopilot minimum 
use altitudes as today.
    However, the proposed rule would enable properly equipped aircraft 
to use the autopilot with other certified navigation systems in certain 
specified weather conditions to attain the same minimum use altitudes 
currently allowed with the coupled ILS. These aircraft must be capable 
of flying a coupled approach with both vertical and lateral path 
references being provided to the autopilot for guidance. A typical 
vertical path reference is a flight path angle provided by the signal 
of an ILS, microwave landing system, GNSS landing system or a 
navigation flight path provided for RNAV operations by an onboard 
database. This change would allow a greater number of aircraft to 
safely use their autopilots to lower minimum use altitudes.
    The remaining provisions in the approach paragraph would provide 
minimum use altitudes dependent on the type of autopilot certification 
found in the AFM. The potential lowest minimum use altitude allowed by 
the proposed rule would be 50 ft. above the elevation TDZE. The 
advantage of this provision, for example, is that it would allow 
operators to keep the autopilot engaged until over the runway during 
complex PBN approaches. This would enable a stable approach path in 
both Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) and Visual 
Meteorological Conditions (VMC). In IMC, it would alleviate the 
transition from the autopilot to instrument hand flying during a 
critical segment of the approach. This would reduce the possibility of 
disorientation and a destabilized approach. In VMC, the same stabilized 
approach could be maintained while flightcrews monitor aircraft 
performance and watch for potential traffic conflicts. Currently, 
pilots must perform these tasks while disconnecting the autopilot half 
way through a descending final turn and continuing the approach 
manually. Although not being utilized, current technology exists to 
allow aircraft autopilot systems to remain engaged below the current 
allowable altitude using multiple forms of navigation. Such technology 
will eventually become a requirement for the implementation of NextGen. 
The proposed rule would provide a regulatory vehicle to meet this 
vision.

E. Go Around/Missed Approach (Sec. Sec.  121.579(e), 125.329(e) and 
135.93(e))

    The proposed rule would also provide guidance for executing a 
missed approach/go-around that the current rule lacks. This guidance is 
first presented in the approach paragraph, wherein an aircraft does not 
need to comply with the autopilot minimum use altitude of that 
paragraph provided it is executing a coupled missed approach/go-around. 
A new subparagraph is also included to provide guidance on when the 
autopilot could be engaged on the missed approach/go-around, if a 
manual missed approach/go-around is accomplished.

F. Landing (Sec. Sec.  121.579(f), 125.329(f) and 135.93(f))

    The last paragraph proposed in the new rule would provide guidance 
for landing. Current language authorizes the Administrator, through 
OpSpecs, to allow an aircraft to touchdown with the autopilot engaged 
using an approved autoland flight guidance system. This authorization 
relies upon an ILS to meet this requirement. The proposed rule would 
state that minimum use altitudes do not apply to autopilot operations 
when an approved and authorized landing system mode is being used for 
landing. The difference in the two rules is that the proposed rule 
would stand alone and would not limit approved landing systems to be 
ground based systems, as the current rule does. The proposed rule would 
also allow new performance based landing systems to be approved and 
implemented for autoland operations as they become available.

G. Rotorcraft Operations (Sec.  135.93(g))

    The current rule expressly excludes rotorcraft operations from the 
minimum altitudes for use of autopilots. The proposed rule would 
continue to exclude rotorcraft operations.

[[Page 71738]]

IV. Regulatory Notices and Analyses

A. Regulatory Evaluation

    Changes to Federal regulations must undergo several economic 
analyses. First, Executive Order 12866 directs that each Federal agency 
shall propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination 
that the benefits of the intended regulation justify its costs. Second, 
the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-354) requires 
agencies to analyze the economic impact of regulatory changes on small 
entities. Third, the Trade Agreements Act (Public Law 96-39) prohibits 
agencies from setting standards that create unnecessary obstacles to 
the foreign commerce of the United States. In developing U.S. 
standards, this Trade Act requires agencies to consider international 
standards and, where appropriate, that they be the basis of U.S. 
standards. Fourth, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (Public Law 
104-4) requires agencies to prepare a written assessment of the costs, 
benefits, and other effects of proposed or final rules that include a 
Federal mandate likely to result in the expenditure by State, local, or 
tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector, of $100 
million or more annually (adjusted for inflation with base year of 
1995). This portion of the preamble summarizes the FAA's analysis of 
the economic impacts of this proposed rule. We suggest readers seeking 
greater detail read the full regulatory evaluation, a copy of which we 
have placed in the docket for this rulemaking.
    Department of Transportation Order DOT 2100.5 prescribes policies 
and procedures for simplification, analysis, and review of regulations. 
If the expected cost impact is so minimal that a proposed or final rule 
does not warrant a full evaluation, this order permits that a statement 
to that effect and the basis for it be included in the preamble if a 
full regulatory evaluation of the cost and benefits is not prepared. 
Such a determination has been made for this proposed rule. The 
reasoning for this determination follows:
Benefits
    The rule would incorporate the capabilities of current autopilots 
and would allow operators to more readily utilize the capabilities of 
future autopilots, flight guidance systems, and GNSS guidance systems 
as they are developed. These new capabilities would enable and 
accelerate the benefits of NextGen technologies and procedures that 
depend upon flight guidance systems to enhance aviation safety in the 
NAS.
Costs
    The proposed rule would specify autopilot minimum use altitudes for 
parts 121, 125 and 135 operators. The rule would be based on the 
capabilities of the aircraft and the minimum use altitudes or lack of 
minimum use altitudes published in the Airplane Flight Manual (AFM). 
The proposed rule would not affect the minimum use altitudes presently 
used by operators in the National Airspace System. Operators would have 
the option to operate as they currently do or pursue the proposed lower 
minimum use altitudes based on their aircraft certification. Operators 
with aircraft that are certified and wishing to immediately achieve the 
proposed lower minimum use altitudes might incur the cost of 
accelerated training. This accelerated training cost is a change in 
present value, but not in total cost, because this type of training 
would have occurred in the future. Additionally, operators would not 
incur certification costs for aircraft, avionics equipment, autopilot 
and flight management systems that have already been certificated. 
Also, by setting new minimum altitudes for each phase of flight that 
certified equipment might operate to, the proposed rule would give 
manufacturers more certainty that new products can be used as they are 
developed. The FAA recognizes some older airplanes are not certificated 
to utilize the lower proposed minimum use altitudes. The FAA believes 
these operators would not incur these costs because they would not seek 
to modify their aircraft in order to be certified for the lower minimum 
use altitudes. The FAA seeks public comments regarding these findings 
and requests that all comments be accompanied with detailed supporting 
data.
    The FAA has, therefore, determined that this proposed rule would 
not qualify as a ``significant regulatory action'' as defined in 
section 3(f) of Executive Order 12866, and is not ``significant'' as 
defined in DOT's Regulatory Policies and Procedures.

B. Regulatory Flexibility Determination

    The Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-354) (RFA) 
establishes ``as a principle of regulatory issuance that agencies shall 
endeavor, consistent with the objectives of the rule and of applicable 
statutes, to fit regulatory and informational requirements to the scale 
of the businesses, organizations, and governmental jurisdictions 
subject to regulation. To achieve this principle, agencies are required 
to solicit and consider flexible regulatory proposals and to explain 
the rationale for their actions to assure that such proposals are given 
serious consideration. The RFA covers a wide-range of small entities, 
including small businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and small 
governmental jurisdictions.
    Agencies must perform a review to determine whether a rule will 
have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. If the agency determines that it will, the agency must 
prepare a regulatory flexibility analysis as described in the RFA. 
However, if an agency determines that a rule is not expected to have a 
significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities, 
section 605(b) of the RFA provides that the head of the agency may so 
certify and a regulatory flexibility analysis is not required. The 
certification must include a statement providing the factual basis for 
this determination, and the reasoning should be clear.
    This proposed rule would not impose any additional costs on 
operators that operate under parts 121, 125, or 135. Consequently, the 
FAA certifies that the proposed rule would not have a significant 
economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.

C. International Trade Impact Assessment

    The Trade Agreements Act of 1979 (Pub. L. 96-39), as amended by the 
Uruguay Round Agreements Act (Public Law 103-465), prohibits Federal 
agencies from establishing standards or engaging in related activities 
that create unnecessary obstacles to the foreign commerce of the United 
States. Pursuant to these Acts, the establishment of standards is not 
considered an unnecessary obstacle to the foreign commerce of the 
United States, so long as the standard has a legitimate domestic 
objective, such the protection of safety, and does not operate in a 
manner that excludes imports that meet this objective. The statute also 
requires consideration of international standards and, where 
appropriate, that they be the basis for U.S. standards. The FAA has 
assessed the potential effect of this proposed rule and determined that 
it would have only a domestic impact and therefore no effect on 
international trade.

D. Unfunded Mandates Assessment

    Title II of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (Pub. L. 104-
4) requires each Federal agency to prepare a written statement 
assessing the effects of any Federal mandate in a proposed or final 
agency rule that may result in an

[[Page 71739]]

expenditure of $100 million or more (in 1995 dollars) in any one year 
by State, local, and tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the 
private sector; such a mandate is deemed to be a ``significant 
regulatory action.'' The FAA currently uses an inflation-adjusted value 
of $143.1 million in lieu of $100 million. This proposed rule would not 
contain such a mandate; therefore, the requirements of Title II of the 
Act do not apply.

E. Paperwork Reduction Act

    The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3507(d)) requires 
that the FAA consider the impact of paperwork and other information 
collection burdens imposed on the public. The FAA has determined that 
there would be no new requirement for information collection associated 
with this proposed rule.

F. International Compatibility

    In keeping with U.S. obligations under the Convention on 
International Civil Aviation, it is FAA policy to conform to 
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Standards and 
Recommended Practices to the maximum extent practicable. The FAA has 
determined that there are no ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices 
that correspond to these proposed regulations.

G. Environmental Analysis

    FAA Order 1050.1E identifies FAA actions that are categorically 
excluded from preparation of an environmental assessment or 
environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy 
Act in the absence of extraordinary circumstances.
    The FAA has determined this rulemaking action qualifies for the 
categorical exclusion identified in paragraph 312f and involves no 
extraordinary circumstances.

V. Executive Order Determinations

A. Executive Order 13132, Federalism

    The FAA has analyzed this proposed rule under the principles and 
criteria of Executive Order 13132, Federalism. The agency has 
determined that this action would not have a substantial direct effect 
on the States, or the relationship between the Federal Government and 
the States, or on the distribution of power and responsibilities among 
the various levels of government, and, therefore, would not have 
Federalism implications.

B. Executive Order 13211, Regulations That Significantly Affect Energy 
Supply, Distribution, or Use

    The FAA analyzed this proposed rule under Executive Order 13211, 
Actions Concerning Regulations that Significantly Affect Energy Supply, 
Distribution, or Use (May 18, 2001). The agency has determined that it 
would not be a ``significant energy action'' under the executive order 
and would not be likely to have a significant adverse effect on the 
supply, distribution, or use of energy.

VI. Additional Information

A. Comments Invited

    The FAA invites interested persons to participate in this 
rulemaking by submitting written comments, data, or views. The agency 
also invites comments relating to the economic, environmental, energy, 
or federalism impacts that might result from adopting the proposals in 
this document.
    The most helpful comments reference a specific portion of the 
proposal, explain the reason for any recommended change, and include 
supporting data. To ensure the docket does not contain duplicate 
comments, commenters should send only one copy of written comments, or 
if comments are filed electronically, commenters should submit only one 
time.
    The FAA will file in the docket all comments it receives, as well 
as a report summarizing each substantive public contact with FAA 
personnel concerning this proposed rulemaking. Before acting on this 
proposal, the FAA will consider all comments it receives on or before 
the closing date for comments. The FAA will consider comments filed 
after the comment period has closed if it is possible to do so without 
incurring expense or delay. The agency may change this proposal in 
light of the comments it receives.

B. Availability of Rulemaking Documents

    An electronic copy of rulemaking documents may be obtained from the 
Internet by--
    1. Searching the Federal eRulemaking Portal (http://www.regulations.gov);
    2. Visiting the FAA's Regulations and Policies Web page at http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies or
    3. Accessing the Government Printing Office's Web page at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/.
    Copies may also be obtained by sending a request to the Federal 
Aviation Administration, Office of Rulemaking, ARM-1, 800 Independence 
Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20591, or by calling (202) 267-9680. 
Commenters must identify the docket or notice number of this 
rulemaking.
    All documents the FAA considered in developing this proposed rule, 
including economic analyses and technical reports, may be accessed from 
the Internet through the Federal eRulemaking Portal referenced in item 
(1) above.

List of Subjects

14 CFR Part 121

    Air Carriers, Aircraft, Airmen, Aviation Safety, Charter Flights, 
Safety, Transportation.

14 CFR Part 125

    Aircraft, Airmen, Aviation Safety.

14 CFR Part 135

    Air taxis, Aircraft, Airmen, Aviation Safety.

The Proposed Amendment

    In consideration of the foregoing, the Federal Aviation 
Administration proposes to amend chapter I of title 14, Code of Federal 
Regulations as follows:

PART 121--OPERATING REQUIREMENTS: DOMESTIC, FLAG, AND SUPPLEMENTAL 
OPERATIONS

    1. The authority citation for part 121 continues to read as 
follows:

    Authority:  49 U.S.C. 106(g), 40113, 40119, 41706, 44101, 44701-
44702, 44705, 44709-44711, 44713, 44716-44717, 44722, 46105.

    2. Revise Sec.  121.579 to read as follows:


Sec.  121.579  Minimum altitudes for use of autopilot.

    (a) Definitions. For purpose of this section:
    (1) Altitudes for takeoff/initial climb and go-around/missed 
approach are defined as above the airport elevation.
    (2) Altitudes for enroute operations are defined as above terrain 
elevation.
    (3) Altitudes for approach are defined as above the touchdown zone 
elevation (TDZE) unless the altitude is specifically in reference to 
DA(H) or MDA in which case the altitude is defined by reference to the 
DA(H) or MDA itself.
    (4) Altitudes specified as above airport elevation, runway TDZE or 
terrain are considered to be above ground level (AGL).
    (b) Takeoff and initial climb.
    No person may use an autopilot for takeoff or initial climb below 
the higher of 500 feet or an altitude that is no lower than twice the 
altitude loss specified in the Airplane Flight Manual (AFM), except as 
follows:
    (1) At a minimum engagement altitude specified in the AFM, or

[[Page 71740]]

    (2) At an altitude specified by the Administrator, whichever is 
greater.
    (c) Enroute.
    No person may use an autopilot enroute, including climb and 
descent, below the following:
    (1) 500 feet,
    (2) At an altitude that is no lower than twice the altitude loss 
specified in the AFM for an autopilot malfunction in cruise conditions, 
or
    (3) At an altitude specified by the Administrator, whichever is 
greater.
    (d) Approach.
    No person may use an autopilot at an altitude lower than 50 feet 
below the DA(H) or MDA for the instrument procedure being flown, except 
as follows:
    (1) For autopilots with an AFM specified altitude loss for approach 
operations, the greater of:
    (i) An altitude no lower than twice the specified altitude loss,
    (ii) An altitude no lower than 50 feet higher than the altitude 
loss specified in the AFM when reported weather conditions are less 
than the basic VFR weather conditions in Sec.  91.155 of this chapter, 
suitable visual references specified in Sec.  91.175 of this chapter 
have been established on the instrument approach procedure, and the 
autopilot is coupled and receiving both lateral and vertical path 
references,
    (iii) An altitude no lower than the higher of the altitude loss 
specified in the AFM or 50 feet above the TDZE when reported weather 
conditions are equal to or better than the basic VFR weather conditions 
in Sec.  91.155 of this chapter, and the autopilot is coupled and 
receiving both lateral and vertical path references, or
    (iv) An altitude specified by the Administrator.
    (2) For autopilots with AFM specified approach altitude 
limitations, the greater of:
    (i) The minimum use altitude specified for the coupled approach 
mode selected,
    (ii) 50 feet, or
    (iii) An altitude specified by Administrator.
    (3) For autopilots with an AFM specified negligible or zero 
altitude loss for an autopilot approach mode malfunction, the greater 
of:
    (i) 50 feet, or
    (ii) An altitude specified by Administrator.
    (4) If executing an autopilot coupled go-around or missed approach, 
using a certificated and functioning autopilot in accordance with 
paragraph (e) in this section.
    (e) Go-Around/Missed Approach.
    No person may engage an autopilot during a go-around or missed 
approach below the minimum engagement altitude specified for takeoff 
and initial climb in paragraph (b) in this section. An autopilot 
minimum use altitude does not apply to a go-around/missed approach 
initiated with an engaged autopilot. Performing a go-around or missed 
approach with an engaged autopilot must not adversely affect safe 
obstacle clearance.
    (f) Landing.
    Notwithstanding paragraph (d) of this section, autopilot minimum 
use altitudes do not apply to autopilot operations when an approved 
automatic landing system mode is being used for landing. Automatic 
landing systems must be authorized in an operations specification 
issued to the operator.

PART 125--CERTIFICATION AND OPERATIONS: AIRPLANES HAVING A SEATING 
CAPACITY OF 20 OR MORE PASSENGERS OR A MAXIMUM PAYLOAD CAPACITY OF 
6,000 POUNDS OR MORE; AND RULES GOVERNING PERSONS ON BOARD SUCH 
AIRCRAFT

    3. The authority citation for part 125 continues to read as 
follows:

    Authority:  49 U.S.C. 106(g), 40113, 44701-44702, 44705, 44710-
44711, 44713, 44716-44717, 44722.

    4. Revise Sec.  125.329 to read as follows:


Sec.  125.329  Minimum altitudes for use of autopilot.

    (a) Definitions. For purpose of this section:
    (1) Altitudes for takeoff/initial climb and go-around/missed 
approach are defined as above the airport elevation.
    (2) Altitudes for enroute operations are defined as above terrain 
elevation.
    (3) Altitudes for approach are defined as above the touchdown zone 
elevation (TDZE) unless the altitude is specifically in reference to 
DA(H) or MDA in which case the altitude is defined by reference to the 
DA(H) or MDA itself.
    (4) Altitudes specified as above airport elevation, runway TDZE or 
terrain are considered to be above ground level (AGL).
    (b) Takeoff and initial climb.
    No person may use an autopilot for takeoff or initial climb below 
the higher of 500 feet or an altitude that is no lower than twice the 
altitude loss specified in the Airplane Flight Manual (AFM), except as 
follows:
    (1) At a minimum engagement altitude specified in the AFM, or
    (2) At an altitude specified by the Administrator, whichever is 
greater.
    (c) Enroute.
    No person may use an autopilot enroute, including climb and 
descent, below the following:
    (1) 500 feet,
    (2) At an altitude that is no lower than twice the altitude loss 
specified in the AFM for an autopilot malfunction in cruise conditions, 
or
    (3) At an altitude specified by the Administrator, whichever is 
greater.
    (d) Approach.
    No person may use an autopilot at an altitude lower than 50 feet 
below the DA(H) or MDA for the instrument procedure being flown, except 
as follows:
    (1) For autopilots with an AFM specified altitude loss for approach 
operations, the greater of:
    (i) An altitude no lower than twice the specified altitude loss,
    (ii) An altitude no lower than 50 feet higher than the altitude 
loss specified in the AFM when reported weather conditions are less 
than the basic VFR weather conditions in Sec.  91.155 of this chapter, 
suitable visual references specified in Sec.  91.175 of this chapter 
have been established on the instrument approach procedure, and the 
autopilot is coupled and receiving both lateral and vertical path 
references,
    (iii) An altitude no lower than the higher of the altitude loss 
specified in the AFM or 50 feet above the TDZE when reported weather 
conditions are equal to or better than the basic VFR weather conditions 
in Sec.  91.155 of this chapter, and the autopilot is coupled and 
receiving both lateral and vertical path references, or
    (iv) An altitude specified by the Administrator.
    (2) For autopilots with AFM specified approach altitude 
limitations, the greater of:
    (i) The minimum use altitude specified for the coupled approach 
mode selected,
    (ii) 50 feet, or
    (iii) An altitude specified by Administrator.
    (3) For autopilots with an AFM specified negligible or zero 
altitude loss for an autopilot approach mode malfunction, the greater 
of:
    (i) 50 feet, or
    (ii) An altitude specified by Administrator.
    (4) If executing an autopilot coupled go-around or missed approach, 
using a certificated and functioning autopilot in accordance with 
paragraph (e) in this section.
    (e) Go-Around/Missed Approach.
    No person may engage an autopilot during a go-around or missed 
approach below the minimum engagement altitude specified for takeoff 
and initial

[[Page 71741]]

climb in paragraph (b) in this section. An autopilot minimum use 
altitude does not apply to a go-around/missed approach initiated with 
an engaged autopilot. Performing a go-around or missed approach with an 
engaged autopilot must not adversely affect safe obstacle clearance.
    (f) Landing.
    Notwithstanding paragraph (d) of this section, autopilot minimum 
use altitudes do not apply to autopilot operations when an approved 
automatic landing system mode is being used for landing. Automatic 
landing systems must be authorized in an operations specification 
issued to the operator.

PART 135--OPERATING REQUIREMENTS: COMMUTER AND ON DEMAND OPERATIONS 
AND RULE GOVERNING PERSONS ON BOARD SUCH AIRCRAFT

    5. The authority citation for part 135 continues to read as 
follows:

    Authority:  49 U.S.C. 106(g), 41706, 40113, 44701-44702, 44705, 
44709, 44711-44713, 44715-44717, 44722, 45101-45105.

    6. Revise Sec.  135.93 to read as follows:


Sec.  135.93  Minimum altitudes for use of autopilot.

    (a) Definitions. For purpose of this section:
    (1) Altitudes for takeoff/initial climb and go-around/missed 
approach are defined as above the airport elevation.
    (2) Altitudes for enroute operations are defined as above terrain 
elevation.
    (3) Altitudes for approach are defined as above the touchdown zone 
elevation (TDZE) unless the altitude is specifically in reference to 
DA(H) or MDA in which case the altitude is defined by reference to the 
DA(H) or MDA itself.
    (4) Altitudes specified as above airport elevation, runway TDZE or 
terrain are considered to be above ground level (AGL).
    (b) Takeoff and initial climb.
    No person may use an autopilot for takeoff or initial climb below 
the higher of 500 feet or an altitude that is no lower than twice the 
altitude loss specified in the Airplane Flight Manual (AFM), except as 
follows:
    (1) At a minimum engagement altitude specified in the AFM, or
    (2) At an altitude specified by the Administrator, whichever is 
greater.
    (c) Enroute.
    No person may use an autopilot enroute, including climb and 
descent, below the following:
    (1) 500 feet,
    (2) At an altitude that is no lower than twice the altitude loss 
specified in the AFM for an autopilot malfunction in cruise conditions, 
or
    (3) At an altitude specified by the Administrator, whichever is 
greater.
    (d) Approach.
    No person may use an autopilot at an altitude lower than 50 feet 
below the DA(H) or MDA for the instrument procedure being flown, except 
as follows:
    (1) For autopilots with an AFM specified altitude loss for approach 
operations, the greater of:
    (i) An altitude no lower than twice the specified altitude loss,
    (ii) An altitude no lower than 50 feet higher than the altitude 
loss specified in the AFM when reported weather conditions are less 
than the basic VFR weather conditions in Sec.  91.155 of this chapter, 
suitable visual references specified in Sec.  91.175 of this chapter 
have been established on the instrument approach procedure, and the 
autopilot is coupled and receiving both lateral and vertical path 
references,
    (iii) An altitude no lower than the higher of the altitude loss 
specified in the AFM or 50 feet above the TDZE when reported weather 
conditions are equal to or better than the basic VFR weather conditions 
in Sec.  91.155 of this chapter, and the autopilot is coupled and 
receiving both lateral and vertical path references, or
    (iv) An altitude specified by the Administrator.
    (2) For autopilots with AFM specified approach altitude 
limitations, the greater of:
    (i) The minimum use altitude specified for the coupled approach 
mode selected,
    (ii) 50 feet, or
    (iii) An altitude specified by Administrator.
    (3) For autopilots with an AFM specified negligible or zero 
altitude loss for an autopilot approach mode malfunction, the greater 
of:
    (i) 50 feet, or
    (ii) An altitude specified by Administrator.
    (4) If executing an autopilot coupled go-around or missed approach, 
using a certificated and functioning autopilot in accordance with 
paragraph (e) in this section.
    (e) Go-Around/Missed Approach.
    No person may engage an autopilot during a go-around or missed 
approach below the minimum engagement altitude specified for takeoff 
and initial climb in paragraph (b) in this section. An autopilot 
minimum use altitude does not apply to a go-around/missed approach 
initiated with an engaged autopilot. Performing a go-around or missed 
approach with an engaged autopilot must not adversely affect safe 
obstacle clearance.
    (f) Landing.
    Notwithstanding paragraph (d) of this section, autopilot minimum 
use altitudes do not apply to autopilot operations when an approved 
automatic landing system mode is being used for landing. Automatic 
landing systems must be authorized in an operations specification 
issued to the operator.
    (g) This section does not apply to operations conducted in 
rotorcraft.

    Issued in Washington, DC, on November 27, 2012.
John M. Allen,
Director, Flight Standards Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-29274 Filed 12-3-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4910-13-P