U.S. Aircraft Instruments Owner Balks at FAA Safo

 - August 18, 2010, 6:52 AM

A recent FAA Safety Alert For Operators (Safo) targeting work done by U.S. Aircraft Instruments between April 1998 and July 9, 2009 "is about payback," Jeff Bell, president of U.S. Aircraft Instruments, told AIN. It identifies discrepancies that led to an emergency revocation of the repair station certificate held by the now defunct Hammonton, N.J. company. Some of the concerns addressed in the Safo include: failure to properly calibrate instruments used in aircraft certification; work done outside the scope of the repair station ratings; failure to use current technical data; and falsification of calibration records. Bell contests those points and suggests FAA inspectors "decided to go beyond their limits and caused nothing but aggravation."

One issue Bell addressed was the FAA's contention that one of his altimeter manuals was out of date. "That manual had not changed in seven years, then the company changed the part numbering system and made the pictures clearer; that's all," he said. "You can still order parts under the old numbers and the maintenance steps are exactly the same. There's no functional difference."

Bell said he checked for updates annually but during the previous year he'd had health problems that prevented him from working in his shop. "I was just getting back into the swing of things when they inspected me. I didn't have a chance to check for updates, but the fact is it was an administrative issue and had no effect on safety whatsoever," he said.

Another FAA finding was a disagreement with the established procedure used for maintaining the Hass barometer used to qualify his pitot-static tester. According to Bell, the Hass barometer was calibrated at the original time of purchase and, per the Hass A-1 barometer handbook, does not require recalibration unless it is overhauled.

"The inspector said it had to be sent back to the manufacturer every three years for recalibration, but that's simply not true. Even the FAA Advisory Circular says it's only recommended the barometer be returned to the manufacturer for recalibration after overhaul. I asked the manufacturer if disassembling, cleaning and replacing the mercury constituted an overhaul and it said it did not. The manufacturer agreed it did not need to be returned, but the inspector didn't care what the manufacturer specified."

Bell said his problem began when he worked for the FAA in Atlantic City maintaining flight-inspection aircraft. He was an FAA employee from 1988 until January 2007, when he was accused of workers' compensation fraud. He had been injured in a work-related accident in October 2001 and was unable to return to work until the fall of 2005. "The FAA didn't like the fact I'd been injured at work and was on Workman's Compensation," he said. "I had on-going problems trying to get Workman's Compensation to pay me."

Bell had also been operating his instrument repair company while he was working for the FAA. The agency accused him of failing to report income from that business while collecting Workman's Compensation. He was found guilty in January 2007 and in the fall of that year he was taken into custody and subsequently served a year in prison.

Bell told AIN that in March 2009 two new FAA inspectors showed up at his repair station, conducted an audit and as a result he was instructed to surrender his repair station and repairmen's certificates that July. Subsequently the FAA went through the process and issued the current Safo. Bell continues to fight with the FAA over compensation he believes the agency owes him. The FAA declined to comment on the situation.