EC threatens reprisal over proposed repair station rule

 - July 28, 2009, 8:16 AM

Earlier this year Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, reassured members of the House of Representatives that Europeans were “blowing smoke” and “crying wolf” when they threatened reciprocation if the Democrat-sponsored H.R. 915 FAA Reauthorization Act became law. It passed 277 to 136 primarily along party lines.

At issue is the language in Section 303 of the House-passed FAA Reauthorization Act that requires biannual inspections by FAA personnel of all foreign FAA Part 145 certificate holders and also requires individuals employed at foreign repair stations to be included in the Department of Transportation’s drug-and-alcohol testing program.
Both requirements are counter to the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA), and the European Commission (EC) has stated that if the language becomes law, the BASA will cease to exist.

Oberstar’s reassurance notwithstanding, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is planning to retaliate, according to a June 22 letter written by Patrick Goudou, the agency’s executive director.

Writing to Daniel Calleja Crespo, director of Directorate F–Air Transport Directorate General Energy and Transport European Commission, Goudou stated: “The Agreement between the European Commission (EC) and the U.S. signed on 30 June 2009 [Sic. The agreement was signed in 2008.–Ed.] is based on mutual trust of each other’s system. Therefore, the legislative proposal affecting the U.S. FAA Reauthorization Act that would require the U.S. FAA to inspect twice yearly all 325 foreign repair stations located in the Community serving American airlines particularly contravene the confidence built in the regulatory oversight carried out by both parties. As a result, I do have the same opinion that measures should be put in place to make sure that the European side will act in a reciprocal manner if the above mentioned act is finally adopted.”

There are 1,233 EASA-certified repair stations in the U.S. that would be affected by the policy. To audit them twice a year Goudou recommends establishing EASA offices in the U.S. Such a move would carry a hefty price tag to be borne by U.S. repair stations, according to Sarah MacCleod, executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA).

“The new rates for holding EASA approval [in the absence of the BASA] will be formulated according to the non-BASA fee schedule. The average cost per repair station to maintain EASA approval will skyrocket from approximately $980 per year to $32,100 per year. This is completely unnecessary. Currently the FAA inspects U.S. EASA-approved repair stations according to EASA standards and the Europeans inspect FAA-approved European repair stations according to our standards.” MacLeod said it is ARSA’s position that the industry must demand that the Congress stop micromanaging an executive agency.

Jason Dickstein, general counsel to the Aviation Suppliers Association, thinks
the retaliatory move by the EC will have a devastating effect on U.S. EASA-certified repair stations that goes beyond an airline issue and affects all aspects of U.S. aviation.

“The real losers are U.S. companies because a lot of repair work is coming from other countries under EASA certificates. Many [of these companies] are small repair stations that take on only a little business. Some don’t even take in foreign work but they use the EASA certification to dually certify U.S. aircraft. It increases the value of what they have to offer,” Dickstein said. “The EC will require every company inspected to pay all the costs of an audit, which will certainly result in some of those certificate holders giving up the certification and losing the work.”

Possible Exemption

On June 14, the Senate released its version of the reauthorization bill, “FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act” (S.1451). The Senate version was slightly less rigorous regarding inspections.

Foreign repair stations fall under Section 521, which also requires drug-and-alcohol testing programs but stipulates they be “acceptable to the FAA and the laws of the country in which the station is located.” Drug-and-alcohol testing has been a contentious issue with some countries.

The Senate version recommends a minimum of two annual inspections–one “unannounced”–from FAA inspectors, making it stricter than the House version. However, S.1451 offers an exemption to FAA inspections if “there is a bilateral aviation safety agreement in place that allows for comparable inspection by local authorities.”

Jim Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), sees the legislation as smoke and mirrors. “The FAA has negotiated a bilateral treaty with Europe that will ensure that all operators in the U.S. and Europe are able to have aircraft maintenance that meets the highest safety standards. Now all that effort will
be thrown out the window to be replaced by a totally unworkable system that is little more than undisguised protectionism,” he told AIN.

With respect to the somewhat more flexible Senate version, MacLeod said, “Considering the capricious nature of the legislative system, the EC would be unwise to accept the ‘better’ language offered by the Senate. For example, the Senate gives the FAA one year to come up with an acceptable method for foreign repair stations to drug and alcohol test their safety-sensitive employees that is consistent with the foreign country’s laws. What happens if the FAA does not respond in a timely manner? Will all foreign repair stations be stopped from performing maintenance until the FAA responds?

“Aviation is the quintessential global industry; as such, leaders on Capitol Hill must not implement a law that spurs retaliatory measures by our international partners. Safety must always remain the top priority; however, we cannot undermine the painstakingly negotiated bilateral aviation safety agreement with the EU by imposing redundant and unnecessary technical inspections,” she concluded.

Differences between the House and Senate bills will be resolved in a conference committee.