Last week the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for Part 145 repair stations, adding new ratings and certification requirements. This NPRM shouldn’t come as a surprise to the industry as it is a result of deferred issues 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 yesterday, however, there were only a handful of comments on the public docket (www.regulations.gov, see Docket No. FAA–2006–26408). According to the FAA, the NPRM is 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 air carriers. A significant change revises the ratings system, cutting ratings to five from eight. For example, 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, adding a new “variable-pitch propeller” category. Finally, the limited rating specialized service becomes just specialized service.
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 The resulting NPRM didn’t come out until 2006, and it was criticized heavily before being withdrawn in 2009.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 FAA 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.
The Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) and Aeronautical Repair Station Association (Arsa) are evaluating the NPRM and preparing comments, which are due by August 20. “This proposal 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 proposal eliminates many of the currently utilized opportunities for mobile maintenance operations.” Arsa executive director Sarah MacLeod said, “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.