The International Civil Aviation Organization (“ICAO”) statistics illustrate that the aviation industry has experienced a substantial growth over the past 20 years. [1]Moreover in ICAO’s own words given in 2019 Aviation Benefits Report “currently forecasts indicate that air traffic volumes will more than double in the next 20 years"[2] so that this increasing number may be the proof of the modern world’s reliance on air travel and transport. In this sense, aviation certification is considered as a tool to exchange of information and technical data which eventually reduces the overall risk in the concerned industry[3]. Therefore to ensure the safety and operation standards in the aviation industry, aircraft/airline operators, wholly referred as “air operators[4]”, are obligated to obtain certain certificates as required by the national and international authorities.

To that end, as a part of series of articles, this article will set light on the concept of the Air Operator Certificate (“AOC”) from the procedure of obtaining to possible cancellation risks.

To start operating an aircraft for commercial purposes, the air operators must obtain an AOC, or sometimes alternatively described as the Air Operator Permit (“AOP”)[5], from the related national authority according to the requirements of that legal system. The AOCs incorporate certain specifications regarding the air operator such as principal place of the operator, authorized area of operations, special limitations, and authorizations if any.

Under Turkish Law, the air operators satisfying the operational specifications drawn by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (“DGCA”) proprietarily for each type of operation may be granted with the operation certificate. In general, the operators falling in scope of DGCA regulations, namely SHY-6A[6] and SHY-6B[7], are being licensed with an “Air Operator Certificate” if the standards of concerned regulation are satisfied.

While the SHY-6A sets out the principles and procedures for the companies providing commercial air transportation services which are established or to be established to carry passengers and cargo or only cargo for a fee with scheduled and/or non-scheduled flights on domestic and international flights, the SHY-6B regulations are subjected to general aviation operators conducting mainly non-commercial aviation activities and also some limited type of commercial aviation activities including training.

Focusing on SHY-6A Regulations: The Path to Obtain AOC

According to regulations of SHY-6A, airlines established in order to conduct commercial air operations must be registered in Turkish Republic.

In addition to the pre-condition regarding the registration location, at least 51% of the total shares of an airline company is required to be “registered share certificates” excepting publicly held airline companies. What is more significant mostly for the foreign investors is that the transfer of shares may be restricted as per the regulations on multiple levels. These levels include the control of the shares and board control together with the right of voting to be hold by Turkish shareholders[8].

SHY-6A also sets out a framework for further requirements for airline operators particularly regarding employment such as providing a sufficient number of the technical and administrative personnel(flight personnel), and providing adequate trainings to the flight personnel, or obtaining the appropriate aircraft certificates for the aircrafts to be operated as airworthiness and type certificates.

In addition to the requirements stated above, in order to obtain AOC duly, the airline operators carrying out commercial air transportation services with scheduled and non-scheduled flights on domestic/international flights are obliged to be authorized by DGCA in compatible with specific requirements[9] defined under SHY-6A.

In any decrease in the required number of the aircrafts or other specifications stated in the related regulations, the airline company is granted with six month period in order to correct these deficiencies. However, in case the operator does not overcome these deficiencies, the AOC will be suspended for three months and thereafter the end of this three months period unless the requirements are satisfied, the AOC is cancelled.[10]

While taking into account all of these requirements together with the other specifications stated in SHY-6A, DGCA follows certain steps to grant an airline company with AOC respectively initial overall assessment of the application, prior authorization, document compliance, auditing process, evaluation process and finally granting with AOC.[11]

AOCs in principle are granted for an indefinite term provided that the airline companies are compatible with the specifications determined under the related regulations. To that end, one must highlight that no aircraft could be operated for commercial purposes by the airline companies unless they are indicated in the AOCs. [12]

Once the AOC is obtained, the airline operator is liable to initiate its operations within six months and cannot pause these operations more than three months. On an additional note, even though all the other requirements are met, the airline operators must also obtain IATA IOSA certificate within three years as of the date of AOC and keep the AOC valid and effective.[13]

To conclude, airline operators are obliged to meet with the requirements of AOC as clarified above in order to avoid any adverse impacts on their operation.