Mx Manual Issues Still Hamstring MROs

 - October 7, 2016, 1:39 PM

The provision of instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA), otherwise known as maintenance manuals, remains an issue for repair stations that need such information to maintain their customers’ aircraft and the components attached to them. The Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) has been working on this issue for many years on behalf of its members and trying to get regulators to uphold rules that require aircraft, engine and component manufacturers (original equipment manufacturers or OEMs) to provide ICA to repair stations, particularly those that don’t have an authorized service center relationship with the OEM.

“Research shows that the regulations have long required that ICA be provided,” according to ARSA executive director Sarah MacLeod. ARSA’s research identifies such requirements (applicable first to engines) as far back as 1941. The requirement that maintenance be done in accordance with manufacturers’ maintenance manuals appeared in 1938. Since then, these early requirements have been codified in FAA regulations, specifically Part 21, 43, 145 and others.

In FAR21.50(b), the regulations state: “The holder of a design approval, including either the type certificate or supplemental type certificate for an aircraft, aircraft engine or propeller for which application was made after Jan. 28, 1981, must furnish at least one set of complete Instructions for Continued Airworthiness to the owner of each type aircraft, aircraft engine or propeller upon its delivery, or upon issuance of the first standard airworthiness certificate for the affected aircraft, whichever occurs later.”

Further, “Thereafter, the holder of a design approval must make those instructions available to any other person required by this chapter to comply with any of the terms of those instructions. In addition, changes to the Instructions for Continued Airworthiness shall be made available to any person required by this chapter to comply with any of those instructions.”

FAR 43.13 requires that entities authorized to perform maintenance do so using “the methods, techniques and practices prescribed in the current manufacturer’s maintenance manual or Instructions for Continued Airworthiness prepared by its manufacturer, or other methods, techniques and practices acceptable to the Administrator.”

For certified repair stations, FAR 145.57 applies performance standards as follows: “each certified domestic repair station shall perform its maintenance and alteration operations in accordance with the standards in Part 43 of this chapter. It shall maintain, in current condition, all manufacturers’ service manuals, instructions and service bulletins that relate to the articles that it maintains or alters.”

Industry Concerns about OEM Operation

Josh Krotec, who volunteers as government affairs chairman at ARSA, is a senior vice president at First Aviation Services and oversees company repair stations that repair and overhaul airliner propellers and business aircraft landing gear, flight controls, electronics and oxygen and fire systems. On the landing gear side, withholding of ICA is a problem, especially because the overhaul cost is a small fraction—roughly 10 percent—of the cost of a new set of landing gear.

For one airframe OEM that First Aviation deals with, Krotec said, “If we ask for the overhaul manuals for landing gear, they say there isn’t one. But when their customers reach the overhaul limit, [this OEM] does the overhaul for them.” So obviously the manuals exist, but the OEM isn’t willing to provide them to First Aviation or even the owner of the airplane, as required in 21.50(b).

In another case, an oxygen systems vendor claimed that it wasn’t responsible to provide ICA to another ARSA member repair station but that it was the airframe OEM’s responsibility. The airframer said it didn’t have to provide the ICA because it didn’t manufacture that oxygen system component. Eventually the vendor finally admitted it did have the ICA and charged what Krotec said was “a ridiculous fee” to provide the ICA. The whole process took two to three years, during which time the repair station was unable to serve its customers.

“It has been a mixed bag in terms of successes,” he said. “Some OEMs are being more aggressive than others, refusing to provide maintenance manuals, not just to repair stations but also to aircraft owners [which is required by 21.50(b)]. They’re trying to keep all that aftermarket work in-house.”

ARSA wants the FAA to enforce its own regulations. “We’ve had mixed success going after OEMs,” said Krotec. Sometimes after reminding the OEM of the regulations, the OEM relents and agrees to provide the ICA. The FAA’s Flight Standards division has been more helpful in this regard than its Aircraft Certification Offices, he added, “even though certification is in charge of managing OEMs and making sure they meet the requirements of type certificate holders, including 21.50(b).”

ARSA’s MacLeod explained that its members are not looking for free information from OEMs, and that reasonable but not outrageous fees for ICA are acceptable. “I’m trying to balance the tables,” she said. “ARSA has never tried to get maintenance manuals for free. We’re just trying to get the FAA to uphold its responsibilities. Just read the plain language of the FAA regulations since they began. I didn’t write the rules. I would just like them to be enforced evenhandedly.”

MacLeod compares the ICA issue with pilot manuals, which airframe OEMs provide in specific detail to pilots, with some OEMs even placing them online for free access to anyone who wants to learn more about their products. Maintainers, she said, “are given the least amount of information, and they are responsible for performing their work properly. The pilot just has to fly the aircraft. If I screw up in maintenance, I make that pilot’s job…a lot more iffy. They can’t fly without the information in the pilot manual. How did we get the short end of the stick?”

Because the Part 145 rules require the maintenance provider to have maintenance data, the MRO provider faces a dilemma because if it can’t get the ICA, it can’t perform maintenance, so then the FAA can’t certify the repair station. But the OEM doesn’t have to provide ICA until the repair station is certified. MacLeod therefore asks the FAA: “If you make me have the data as a maintenance provider and the rule says the OEM is supposed to make it and provide it, but won’t provide it, how are you maintaining safety?”

This is not just a problem in the U.S. but also in Europe, according to ARSA. The solution, at least until these issues are resolved, appears to lie in expanding the ability of repair stations to make repairs that they develop using their own engineers. The OEM has little influence over the approval process for these repairs. But developing the repairs not only costs money, but it also sucks up valuable regulator resources. “We don’t want the agency’s time taken up approving repairs that should be in the overhaul manuals,” she said. “Or holding repair stations hostage because [the FAA] refused to help.”

The FAA’s most recent attempt to clarify the ICA dilemma was a draft advisory circular issued last year. But after soliciting comments on draft AC No: 20-ICA late last year, the agency has taken no further action.