FAA Proposes Rule on Maintenance Outsourcing Practices

 - March 19, 2014, 11:30 AM

The FAA is accepting comments on an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) that would require employees of FAA-certified foreign repair stations and certain other maintenance providers who perform safety-sensitive work on U.S. airliners to be subject to a drug-and-alcohol-testing program. Consistent with the Congressional mandate for the rulemaking, the testing program would have to meet FAA standards and be consistent with the applicable laws of the country where the repair station is located.

Currently, the FAA’s drug-and-alcohol-testing regulations do not extend to companies or individuals who perform safety-sensitive functions, including aircraft and preventive maintenance, outside the U.S.

What has yet to be determined is whether the cost of such a program, if enacted, would be borne solely by the airlines served or whether foreign repair stations would spread the cost across the entire customer base–including business aviation, even though a screening program is not required in that sector. The public comment period will help the FAA develop a proposed rule and assess its likely economic impact.

The notice invites comments on issues related to proposing drug-and-alcohol testing requirements for the relevant employees of covered maintenance providers. Among the questions:

• Which drugs are most misused in a particular country?

• If testing programs exist, are they administered by a national regulatory authority?

• Are industry participants required to establish such programs under the country’s laws and regulations or does industry do that voluntarily?

•Should the program require testing for the same drugs the FAA looks for in the U.S.?

• At what concentrations should alcohol and drug tests be considered positive?

• Does a particular country allow or require random drug and/or alcohol testing and, if so, what is the process?

•If a country does not allow or require random drug and/or alcohol testing, are there laws that prohibit random testing?

Sarah MacLeod, executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (Arsa), supports the concept but with reservations: “Arsa looks forward to ensuring the congressionally mandated drug-and-alcohol-testing requirements are implemented ‘consistent with the applicable laws of the country in which the repair station is located.’ Final action cannot be allowed to jeopardize the delicate framework of international civil aviation agreements and national sovereignty. Arsa encourages the international aviation community to submit comments and urges their governments to do the same.”

MacLeod notes that Arsa has worked hard during this process to minimize the impact of the congressional dictate on the sovereignty of other nations, all of which have citizens who fly on American-made aircraft.

“Aviation is an international business; it must be treated as such by all nations, particularly countries that fly aircraft to all corners of the world. There seems to be a basic misunderstanding about the technical requirements of aviation safety. Drug-and-alcohol testing does not ensure work is performed properly; it merely ensures that people are tested for inappropriate use of alcohol or drugs.” MacLeod also noted that it strikes her association as ironic that the people who design and build aircraft are not classified as performing safety-sensitive functions, unlike those performing maintenance and preventive maintenance functions.

Transportation Trades Department AFL-CIO president Edward Wytkind commented, “The FAA’s announcement that it will consider extending drug-and-alcohol testing to maintenance providers located outside the U.S. is in direct response to a congressional mandate passed in 2012 and one that was supported by transportation labor as a long overdue safety reform…Today’s action also brings us closer to federal rules that level the playing field for U.S. airline mechanics. This generation of skilled mechanics has lived through an epidemic of outsourcing inspired by a government-sanctioned feeding frenzy that today has almost 70 percent of aircraft maintenance outsourced, with one-third of it sent overseas.”