The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to revise FAR Part 145 repair station certification and regulation has incurred the wrath of industry. In the more than 300 responses, a number that increases daily as the November 19 cutoff date approaches, it is difficult to find anyone supporting it though there are a few.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ Airline Division is among the proposal’s supporters. “The FAA has stated that these proposed changes are critical to maintaining safety. We concur. For too long, the repair station industry has operated under rules less comprehensive and less stringent than those required by air carrier maintenance operations. Additionally, repair stations have far less oversight than that visited upon air carrier maintenance facilities. This disparity has persisted despite the increasing amount of aircraft maintenance being outsourced to these facilities both within the United States and overseas. The double standard has no place in our aviation system.” The more jaded industry members refer to the union’s support as protectionism seeking to eliminate foreign competition.
Even the handful of responses that suggest support often include concern. American Airlines wrote, “… the NPRM does not make it sufficiently clear how existing repair stations holding class ratings will transition to the revised rating system. The NPRM suggests that the FAA will issue new certificates to existing repair stations, but there appears to be little guidance on how this process will work or the time frame in which the transition will occur.”
A manufacturing company, generally in agreement, expresses concern about the chief inspector requirement. “It would require us to have someone as a chief inspector who is a bench inspector, etch and FPI inspector (preferably a level 3), welder, machinist, heat treat tech and so on. A person with three years’ experience would be difficult or impossible to find, so we would be forced to hire an A&P mechanic with three years’ minimum experience as well as a backup person. I feel this would create an undue hardship on a small to medium repair station. It would be much simpler if the chief inspector were relegated [sic] to the overview position.”
Many of the comments focus on the major time and financial requirements for a repair station to implement the changes. “I cannot think of any other proposed change to the regulations over the past 30 years that poses such an imminent threat to the very existence of the small repair stations that serve the general aviation sector. There is virtually no way that a small, three- to five-person shop could absorb the costs of implementing the new changes and still remain profitable or viable. Many small shops are just making their way back after the major blow to aviation caused by 9/11,” says one. The writer also notes the significant cost of implementing the required training program and new hazmat training requirements.
Many note that time is money. A common theme among respondents is the cost in labor to comply with and transition to the new rule. “This proposed rule requires revision and approval of all three repair station manuals as well as developing and managing a list of capabilities! The FAA is not accounting for the man-hours needed for a repair station to revise and create capabilities lists.”
The “time is money theme” also includes castigation of the FAA for attempting to implement a change it does not have the staffing to support. “The rule proposes a 24-month implementation period to reissue new certificates for all repair stations. With the current lack of FAA workforce and sequestration initiatives, how will the agency provide the resources needed to approve and reissue certifications to 4,000 repair stations in a 24-month period? If a repair station certificate is not reissued within the 24-month time period, the previous certificate is no longer valid and businesses will not be able to operate as Part 145 repair stations, which results in loss of jobs!”
And then there are the many concerns about specific technical issues. One operator points out that the proposal reduces the rating system from eight to five ratings and revises the definitions to indicate the type of work that a repair station is authorized to perform. But, it also removes radio and instrument ratings and allows airframe-rated repair stations to repair and alter radios and instruments without any specific ratings or obvious qualifications.
Another commenter expresses concern about legacy aircraft. “The recent proposal restricting the fabrication of aircraft parts by maintenance personnel will throw a wrench into the works for some aircraft owners. Many of these people own aircraft that are not readily supported by the aircraft industry. Currently, many of the aircraft maintenance manuals give the A&P the privilege of fabricating parts using specific materials stated in the aircraft maintenance manual.”
One MRO points out a significant limitation to the proposed system: the capabilities list. “Much of the work we do is servicing and inspecting light aircraft. There is something in excess of 1,000 different makes and models of aircraft that we can currently work on under the existing rating system. Based on these proposed rules we would need to list each of these makes and models in the capabilities list to maintain these aircraft legally. If we didn’t have a given one listed and a new customer shows up for servicing, we would have to amend the capabilities list and have it approved before work could commence. Many times these would be transient customers that need a simple repair to proceed on their trip. This would inconvenience the customer, reduce the potential profits of the company and increase the cost to the customer.”
Sarah MacLeod, executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (Arsa), told AIN, “Arsa is encouraged that the industry is viewing this NPRM with skepticism. Several proposals have been made and rejected twice; maybe the FAA believes the industry’s memory is as short as the agency’s. Additionally, it has proposed changes that will be impossible to enforce in a time of austerity.”
The most succinct response says simply, “The changes proposed in the NPRM are very confusing and unclear. The FAA provides no evidence that they will result in increased safety. I think the FAA should withdraw the proposal.”