On May 21 the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for Part 145 repair stations intended to “modernize the regulations to keep pace with current industry standards and practices.” The new rules revise repair station ratings, certification requirements and how repair stations serve airlines.
This NPRM shouldn’t come as a surprise to the industry as it is a result of issues deferred from a 2001 Part 145 rule proposal, a revision of repair station ratings and quality assurance systems that generated a large number of negative comments. As of mid-June, only a handful of comments were in the public docket (www.regulations.gov, see Docket No. FAA–2006–26408). Only one commenter questioned any aspect of the NPRM, asking about details regarding inspectors and whether a manufacturer that also holds a repair station certificate could have a single quality system. The remaining comments sought an extension of the comment period, something that is common with complex rulemaking proposals.
Changes To Address Current Issues
A significant change in the proposal revises the ratings system, cutting ratings to five from eight. According to the FAA, “the current ratings system dates to the 1930s and 1940s, and does not adequately address the way current aircraft are constructed.” The new rules would allow the FAA to adapt more easily to changing technologies.
Under the NPRM, radio, instrument and accessory classes would be combined under the component category, with no distinction between types of component such as the existing mechanical, electrical, gyroscopic, electronic and so on. Airframes are simplified, too, eliminating the current small and large composite and all-metal classes and aligning aircraft under three categories, Part 23 or 27, Part 25 or 29 and “all other aircraft.” Engines expand from three classes (reciprocating 400 hp or less, more than 400 hp and turbines) to four: reciprocating, turbine, APUs and “all other powerplants.” Propellers expand to three categories with the addition of a “variable-pitch propeller” category. Finally, the limited rating specialized service becomes just specialized service. The reason for this change, the FAA noted, is that “Part 145’s system of ratings does not address current technology or industry practices. It is not dynamic and cannot adapt as new technologies are introduced. It is also not defined clearly and is open to inconsistent interpretation and application.”
The FAA tried to address the ratings and quality system issues that were held over from the earlier rulemaking, and an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee completed its work on those subjects in 2002. The resulting NPRM didn’t come out until 2006, and after heavy criticism it was withdrawn in 2009. One element of the 2006 NPRM, a formal quality system, remains tabled, because the FAA believes that an upcoming Safety Management System requirement for Part 145 repair stations will adequately cover those needs. An SMS would probably overlap with quality system regulations, creating the need to modify the quality system to meet the SMS requirements, the agency noted.
A key change under the NPRM is that repair stations would be required to obtain FAA approval of their operations specifications. Repair stations are currently required to comply with operations specifications, but the rules do “not define the term or explain what they consist of,” according to the FAA.” The new rule “would also provide detailed processes for both FAA-initiated and repair station-initiated amendments to [operations specifications].” This could result in forcing the FAA to apply more resources to overseeing repair stations and consequently lead to delays in approvals of operations specifications, something that the Part 135 charter industry encounters frequently.
Another change is the training program requirement, which under the existing rules requires that employees be “capable of performing the assigned task.” The new rules retain that requirement and add mandatory training in human factors, FAA regulations and the “repair station’s manuals, quality control program, procedures and forms.”
The Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) and Aeronautical Repair Station Association (Arsa) are evaluating the NPRM and preparing comments, which are due by August 20 (unless the FAA grants an extension). “Thisproposal makes wholesale changes to the avionics industry with damaging and costly repercussions,” the AEA noted. “The [FAA] proposes to remove radio and instrument ratings and allow airframe-rated repair stations to work on radio and instrument components without qualifications or ratings. In addition, the proposaleliminates many of the currently utilized opportunities for mobile maintenance operations.” The AEA has published on its website a comparative analysis of the old and proposed new rules (see the Regulatory Updates section on www.aea.net).
The new rules include, according to Arsa executive director Sarah MacLeod, “proposals for permanent housing, satellite repair stations and [performing maintenance] for air carriers that will take study to understand their pros and cons. The new rating system and its proposal to establish capability lists must be reviewed thoroughly to ensure the agency avoids past pitfalls and has truly established an easily understandable method for knowing the type of work performed by each repair station. As with all proposed rules, it may create as many problems as it is trying to fix.”
Existing repair stations will have 24 months (from implementation of the new rules) to operate under existing Part 145 regulations. All repair stations will have to reapply for a new Part 145 certificate and be approved before the end of the 24-month time period to avoid any interruption in certification.