Proposed Contract Maintenance Rule Gets Mixed Industry Review

 - December 3, 2012, 4:15 AM

Proposed amendments to FAA maintenance regulations affecting contract maintenance providers and carriers operating under Parts 121 and 135 have evoked some skepticism as well as support from organizations representing repair stations and business aviation operators.

The amendments are contained in an FAA notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published in the Federal Register on November 13. The NPRM responds to congressional direction in the 2012 FAA reauthorization act requiring the agency within three years to issue regulations over who may perform “covered work” on an aircraft. While the maintenance provision in the reauthorization act references Part 121 carriers, the NPRM would extend the new requirements to Part 135 operators of aircraft with 10 or more passenger seats.

Specifically, the proposed rule would require operators to develop policies and procedures for performing contract maintenance “that are acceptable to the FAA,” and to include them in their maintenance manuals. Operators would have to provide to the FAA a list of the names and addresses of the contract maintenance providers they do business with, and a description of the type of maintenance that would be performed.

“These changes are needed because contract maintenance has increased to more than 70 percent of all air carrier maintenance, and numerous investigations have shown deficiencies in maintenance performed by contract maintenance providers,” the NPRM states. “The proposals would help ensure consistency between contract and in-house air carrier maintenance and enhance the oversight capabilities of both the air carriers and the FAA.”

The FAA estimates the overall cost to Part 121 and affected Part 135 operators over 10 years would be $2.4 million, which it describes as an “essentially minimal cost” that is exceeded by the value derived. The agency assumes a first-year cost to 207 Part 135 air carriers of $320,114–or $1,546 per carrier. Comments on the NPRM are due by February 11.

Associations Weigh In

In a statement provided to AIN, NBAA was generally supportive of the proposed amendments to maintenance regulations. “The proposals would help ensure consistency between contract and in-house air carrier maintenance and enhance the oversight capabilities of both the air carriers and the FAA,” the association said. It noted that Department of Transportation inspector general reports cited in the NPRM “recommended the FAA develop a means to identify these contract maintenance providers so the agency could better target its inspector resources in surveilling air

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Sarah MacLeod, executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (Arsa), said her organization is concerned that the NPRM does not match the intent of the authorization legislation. She questioned language in the proposed rule that would dictate how an air carrier provides oversight of a contract maintenance provider. The FAA states that it plans to “provide definitions of supervision and control and directly in charge. … [W]e are also proposing that each (Part 121/135) certificate holder must be directly in charge of all covered work it contracts to a maintenance provider,” according to the NPRM.

“It seems at first blush that the agency has muddied the water between ‘directly in charge,’ which is a legislative term, and ‘supervision,’ which is an agency-defined term,” MacLeod said. Part 145-certified repair stations “do not need to be directly supervised, and we believe the legislation is clear on that.”

MacLeod said Arsa worked hard to ensure that Part 145 repair stations “were treated with respect” by Congress, and will do the same in responding to the NPRM. “An air carrier certificate is not as important for maintenance to be done as a repair station certificate,” she argued. “The agency’s position in some respects begs me to turn in my certificate and just let the air carrier do all of the work. It’s a misunderstanding of the layers [of safety] the agency itself has created.”