Regulatory Brief -- FAA proposes significant regulatory changes for repair stations

December 2, 1999

Department of Transportation Dockets
Docket No. FAA-1999-5836
400 Seventh St., SW, Room Plaza 401
Washington, DC 20590

Gentlemen,

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), representing the aviation interests of more than 350,000 pilots and aircraft owners, submits the following amended comments to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking covering 14 CFR parts 11, 91, 121, 135, and 145. These amended comments supercede AOPA�s original comments to this docket dated October 19, 1999. AOPA is concerned that the provisions of the proposed rule will place a substantial administrative and economic burden upon operators of Part 145 repair stations. Ultimately, the proposed rule will lead to significantly higher maintenance costs for owners of general aviation aircraft, and will result in a degradation of the level of FAA oversight of the GA maintenance industry.

AOPA has major objections to the majority of the provisions contained in the proposed rule. However, for the sake of clarity, AOPA will comment only on those provisions that have the most significant impact upon our membership. To clarify AOPA�s position on the provisions of this proposed rule, a section-by-section listing of AOPA�s comments and concerns follows:

Subpart A - General

� 145.3 Definition of Terms

(o) Overhauled. An article can be properly described as "overhauled" if, by using methods, techniques, and practices acceptable to the Administrator, the article has been disassembled, cleaned, inspected, repaired as necessary, and reassembled, and it has been tested in accordance with approved standards and technical data or in accordance with current standards and technical data acceptable to the Administrator that have been developed and documented by the holder of the type certificate, supplemental type certificate, or a material, part process, or appliance approval under 14 C.F.R. 21.305 of this chapter.

AOPA opposes this definition of "overhauled". AOPA holds that it is in the best interest of aviation safety to consistently define terms throughout the Federal Aviation Regulations. Consequently, AOPA recommends that the FAA strike the above referenced definition of "overhauled" from the proposed rule, and replace it with the definition of "overhauled" currently contained in 14 C.F.R. � 43.

Subpart B � Certification

� 145.51 Application for Certificate

  1. An application for a repair station certificate and rating must be made on a form and in a manner prescribed by the Administrator, and must include
  1. A copy of the applicant�s repair station manual required by � 145.205 for approval by the administrator;
  2. A list by type, make or model, as appropriate, of the aircraft, airframe, aircraft engine, propeller, appliance, component, or part thereof, for which the application is made

AOPA opposes the requirement that an applicant provide a list of all appliances, equipment, articles, parts, etc. AOPA maintains that it would be difficult, or even impossible, for an applicant to list the hundreds of variations of aircraft, components, parts, and articles. To do so would be overly burdensome to the applicant and would not serve to further aviation safety. Consequently, AOPA recommends that the Agency allow a "blanket" approval for a series of aircraft, equipment, accessories and their associated parts and components.

� 145.51 (a)(4) An organizational chart of the repair station and a list of the names and titles of managing and supervisory personnel;

AOPA maintains that the FAA�s approval of a company�s organizational chart and personnel roster is outside the scope of the FAA�s role of regulating aviation safety. AOPA opposes the FAA�s approval of a company�s organizational chart and personnel assignments on the grounds that such a requirement would place a substantial administrative burden on operators of certified repair stations and the FAA. Further, we maintain that the FAA lacks the manpower and resources to review and approve the vast number of organizational charts and personnel rosters in a timely fashion. Consequently, AOPA recommends that the FAA require an organizational chart containing only the functional title of repair station personnel.

Subpart C � Facilities, Equipment, Materials, and Housing

� 145.103 Facility and housing Requirements

�145.103(a) Each certificated repair station must provide suitable facilities and housing so that the maintenance, preventative maintenance, or alteration being performed is protected from weather elements, dust, and heat; such facilities must include the following:

AOPA holds that the term "suitable" is much too subjective to be used in this regulatory context. The term "suitable facility" leaves the complete repair station facility open to the interpretation of an individual inspector. Consequently, AOPA recommends that the FAA strike the language contained in � 145.103 and replace it with the more specific language contained in the current �145.35.

  1. Housing for the repair station�s necessary equipment and material
  2. Space for the maintenance, preventative maintenance, or alterations that the repair station performs under its rating
  3. Facilities for properly storing, segregating, and protecting, materials, parts, and supplies
  4. Facilities for properly protecting parts and subassemblies during disassembly, cleaning, inspection, repair, alteration, and assembly
  5. Shop space where machine tools and equipment are kept and where the largest amount of bench work is done. The shop space need not be partitioned, but machines and equipment must be segregated whenever
  1. Machine or woodwork is performed near an assembly area where chips or other material might inadvertently fall into assembled or partially assembled work;
  2. Unpartitioned cleaning units for parts are near other operations;
  3. Painting or spraying is performed in an area arranged so that paint or paint dust could fall on assembled or partially assembled work;
  4. Paint spraying, cleaning, or machine operations are performed near testing operations so that the precision of test equipment might be affected; or
  5. Determined necessary by the administrator.
  1. Assembly space in an enclosed structure where the largest amount of assembly work is done. The assembly space must be large enough for the largest article on which work is to be performed.

    AOPA holds that it has long been an industry practice to conduct maintenance actions on airframe components such as floats, wings, empennages etc. on ramp spaces and/or out-of-doors, with no apparent negative impact on aviation safety. Consequently, AOPA sees no immediate need to require an indoor facility adequate to house the largest article for which the repair station is certified. AOPA recommends that the FAA remove this requirement and retain the facility requirements contained in the current � 145.35.

  2. Storage facilities used exclusively for properly storing and protecting parts and raw materials, separated from shop and working space so that
    1. Only acceptable parts and supplies are used; and
    2. Parts being assembled or disassembled or awaiting assembly or disassembly will be stored and protected so as to minimize the possibility of damage.

    Many small repair stations operate without a substantial parts inventory. It has long been industry practice for these smaller repair stations to operate by ordering parts "on-demand." As a result, many smaller repair stations operate without a dedicated parts storage facility, simply because they do not have a regular need for such a facility. These shops routinely store raw materials, sheet metal, rivets, etc. in their respective shops, without any apparent degradation of the quality of maintenance work or aviation safety. This proposed provision requires the construction of a separate and dedicated storage facility for all repair stations, including shops that do not regularly operate with a sustained parts inventory. AOPA recommends that the FAA alter the provisions of � 145.103 (a)(7) to allow small shops that do not operate with a large sustained parts inventory to continue operations without a separate and dedicated storage facility.

  3. Ventilation for the repair shop and the assembly and storage areas so that the physical capability of workers is not impaired
  4. Lighting for work being performed that does not adversely affect the quality of the work
  5. Control of the temperature of the shop and assembly area so that the quality of work is not affected. Whenever special maintenance operations are being performed, the temperature and humidity control must be adequate to ensure the airworthiness of the article being maintained.

    AOPA maintains that the provisions contained in paragraphs (8) (9) and (10) allow for broad interpretations on the part of FAA inspectors and are much too subjective to foster a fair and equitable compliance environment. Further, we hold that FAA inspectors are experts in airworthiness, not climate, lighting, ventilation, and building codes. To address these concerns, AOPA recommends that the FAA include specific and measurable standards for shop lighting, ventilation, and climate control as specified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Department of Labor.

    � 145.105 Change of Location, Housing, or Facilities

    1. A certificated repair station may not make any change in its location or any change, deletion, or addition to its housing facilities, whether the change is a new location, is a substantial rearrangement of space within the present location, or involves moving any of the housing or facilities that are required by Sec. 145.103, unless the change is approved by the Administrator.
    2. The Administrator may prescribe the conditions, including any limitations, under which a certificated repair station may operate while it is changing location, housing, or facilities.
    3. A certificated repair station may not operate at a new location until approved by the Administrator.

    AOPA believes that the provisions of this section are much too subjective and will result in inconsistent enforcement. Further, these requirements will serve as a deterrent to certificate holders wishing to upgrade their facility or equipment. AOPA doubts that the FAA has the manpower or resources to constantly review and approve the inevitably high number of non-safety-related facilities-alteration-notifications that will result from this rule. AOPA recommends that the FAA require notification only when a certificated repair station wishes to reduce the size or scope of their facility.

    � 145.111 Equipment and Material Requirements

    1. Except when work is being performed at an authorized satellite facility, a certificated repair station must have, located on the premises and under its full control, the equipment and material necessary to perform the maintenance, preventive maintenance, or alterations appropriate to the rating held by the repair station as set forth in appendix A to this part. Such equipment and material must be acceptable to the Administrator.

    AOPA recommends that the FAA modify the provisions of this paragraph to reflect the current operating practices of certificated repair stations. The high cost of specialized equipment requires many smaller repair stations to lease equipment from the manufacturer for a limited period of time. Equipment leasing of this type is common practice in the repair station business, and has no negative affect on aviation safety or the quality of work performed by a repair station certificate holder. Consequently, AOPA recommends that the FAA strike the mandatory equipment requirements from � 145.111(a) and allow a certificate holder to show they have made contractual arrangements for specialized equipment should the need arise.

    Subpart D � Personnel

    � 145.151 Personnel Requirements

    1. Each certificated repair station must:
    1. Designate an individual as accountable manager;
    2. Have a sufficient number of personnel to plan and perform the maintenance, preventive maintenance, or alterations for which the repair station is rated; and
    3. Determine the abilities of its noncertificated employees to perform maintenance operations, based on practical tests and employment records.

    AOPA believes that the nature of the repair station business may prohibit smaller facilities from meeting the requirements of paragraph (2) of this section. Specifically, the workload of a small repair station can fluctuate dramatically during a given time period. The number of personnel employed by a repair station can vary accordingly. Further, the term "sufficient number of personnel" is much too subjective, is outside the scope of aviation safety, and may lead to unwarranted enforcement actions. AOPA recommends that paragraph (2) be removed from this section of the rule.

    � 145.153 Supervisory and Inspection Personnel Requirements

    1. Each certificated repair station must provide a sufficient number of trained personnel who can supervise and inspect the maintenance, preventive maintenance, or alterations for which the station is rated.

    Again, AOPA maintains that the term "sufficient number" is much too subjective and may result in unwarranted enforcement action against a certificate holder. Further, AOPA maintains that an FAA determination of a "sufficient number" of personnel to conduct or supervise a particular maintenance action falls well outside the scope of the regulatory authority of the FAA and in no way serves to benefit aviation safety. Consequently, AOPA recommends that paragraph (a) be removed from � 145.153.

    1. Each individual who is supervising a maintenance function in a repair station must:
    1. Be appropriately certificated as a mechanic or repairman under Part 65 of this chapter when supervising a maintenance function in a repair station located within the United States;
    2. Have had at least 18 months practical experience in the maintenance function that the individual is supervising; and
    3. Be adequately trained on maintenance of the article upon which work is performed and be familiar with the procedures, practices, inspection methods, materials, tools, and equipment used in the maintenance, preventive maintenance, or alterations for which the repair station is rated.

    AOPA maintains that the provisions of this section are overly restrictive and may result in prohibitively high training costs. Current industry training practices have resulted in

    an excellent safety record, yet many of the current experienced supervisors will fail to meet the standards set forth in this proposed rule. Consequently, AOPA recommends that the FAA strike the language contained in paragraph (d) of this section and replace it with the language contained in the current � 145.39(d).

    Subpart E � Operating Rules

    � 145.201 Quality Assurance and Quality Control Systems

    1. Each certificated repair station must:
    1. Establish and maintain a quality assurance system acceptable to the Administrator;
    2. Establish and maintain a quality control and inspection system that ensures the airworthiness of the articles on which the repair station or any of its contractors performs maintenance, preventive maintenance, or alterations; and
    3. Describe the systems required by this paragraph in the repair stations manual.

    AOPA opposes the implementation of mandatory quality assurance programs on the grounds that it is outside the scope of regulating aviation safety. There is no positive proof that indicates that a quality assurance program is more effective at locating/preventing defects than the inspection systems currently in use throughout the industry. Consequently, AOPA recommends that the FAA strike the provisions of subparagraph (1) from this section of the proposed rule.

    � 145.213 Contract Maintenance

    1. A certificated repair station may not contract a job function to another certificated repair station unless:
    1. The contracting repair station meets the quality control and inspection system requirements of 145.201 (a)(2) and 145.209 (c)(2), and
    2. The contracting repair station�s approved repair station manual contains the information and procedures specified in 145.207 (h).

    In order to receive a repair station certificate, an applicant must demonstrate compliance with the quality control/inspection requirements, and the repair station manual requirements of this rule. Therefore, the provisions of � 145.213 (a)(1) and (2) are redundant and not necessary. It should not be the responsibility of the public to assure the regulatory compliance of another certificate holder. Therefore, AOPA recommends that � 145.213 (a) be deleted from the proposed rule in its entirety.

    1. A certificated repair station may not contract a job function to a noncertificated person unless:
    1. The certificated repair station meets the quality control and inspection system requirements of 145.201(a)(2) and 145.209 (c)(2);
    2. The certificated repair station�s approved repair station manual contains the information and procedures specified in 145.207(h);
    3. The certificated repair station supervises or otherwise remains directly in charge of the job function; and
    4. The certificated repair station verifies, by test and/or inspection, that the job function has been satisfactorily performed by the noncertificated person prior to approving the article for return to service.

    Subparagraph (3) implies that the certificate holder must maintain some type of technical supervision over the contracted work. It is not common practice for a repair station to contract work for which they have an appropriate level of technical knowledge and expertise. Consequently, repair stations typically contract only that work for which they are unable to provide an appropriate level of technical expertise or supervision. Therefore, AOPA recommends that the provisions of subparagraph (3) be clarified to limit the supervisory role of the certificated repair station to contract management and airworthiness issues.

    1. A certificated repair station may not contract the maintenance, preventive maintenance, or alteration of a complete type-certificated product, and it may not provide only approval for return to service of any article following contract maintenance.

    It is currently common practice in the aviation industry to contract type-certificated products such as engines, propellers, and in some cases, entire airframes, to facilities to conduct maintenance actions such as non-destructive inspections and overhauls. The prohibition of such activities is contrary to aviation safety as it will keep these products out of the hands of specialized and highly experienced mechanics, repair stations, and maintenance facilities. AOPA recommends that subparagraph (c) be removed in its entirety from this section of the proposed rule.

    � 145.219 Reports of defects or unairworthy condition

    1. Each repair station must report the defect or unairworthy condition it discovers to the Administrator on a form and in a manner prescribed by the Administrator. The report must include as much of the following information as is available:
    1. Type, make, and model of the aircraft, airframe, aircraft engine, propeller, appliance, or component part;
    2. Name and address of the operator;
    3. Date of the discovery of the serious defect or other recurring unairworthy condition;
    4. Nature of the failure, malfunction, or defect;
    5. Identification of the article and time since last overhaul;
    6. Apparent cause of the failure, malfunction, or defect (e.g., wear, crack, design deficiency, or personnel error); and
    7. Other pertinent information that is necessary for more complete identification, determination of seriousness, or corrective action.

    AOPA vehemently opposes any airworthiness-reporting requirement that includes the name and address of the operator of the subject aircraft. Such a requirement would have a substantial negative impact on aviation safety as it would dissuade a large number of operators from using the services of certificated repair stations. Further, such a requirement may result in an increase of unwarranted enforcement actions against operators of aircraft that experience an unairworthy condition.

    AOPA strongly recommends that subparagraph (b)(2) be deleted in its entirety from this section of the proposed rule.

    Conclusion:

    AOPA opposes the "one size fits all" approach the FAA has taken to this rule. The vast majority of certified repair stations are small, general aviation oriented shops with a small customer base and few employees and mechanics. The FAA�s uniform approach to this rulemaking fails to take into consideration the economic and administrative constraints of these small businesses. Consequently, most of the provisions of this proposed rule are overly burdensome, both financially and administratively, and if enacted would result in significantly higher maintenance costs for all general aviation pilots. Additionally, the provisions of this proposed rule may degrade aviation safety by reducing the number of certified repair stations under the FAA�s surveillance.

    According to the economic analysis included in the Aircraft Electronics Association�s (AEA) comments to this docket, it is estimated that the provisions of this proposed rule, if enacted, would result in an increase of operating costs of twenty-one percent (21%) for the average GA oriented repair station. The gross earnings necessary to offset such a direct operating cost increase (based on reasonable and allowable profits) will result in a thirty-six percent (36%) increase in maintenance costs for aircraft owners who utilize the services of such facilities. Owners and operators of general aviation aircraft, who are the primary customers of such small repair station facilities, can ill-afford such a dramatic increase in maintenance costs. Consequently, it is likely that the promulgation of this rule will force the majority of general aviation pilots to seek services elsewhere.

    The promulgation of this rule is also likely to force many small repair stations to surrender their certificates in order to maintain competitive rates for maintenance services. Many repair stations may, after surrendering their certificates, continue to operate as individuals to install and repair equipment under other certificated methods (A&P/IA). Such persons will not be exposed to the degree of surveillance currently directed toward FAA certificated repair stations. Ironically, this will result in a reduction of the FAA�s safety surveillance of the aviation maintenance industry.

    For the above-mentioned reasons, AOPA holds that promulgation of this rule, as proposed, is not in the public�s best interest. AOPA recommends that the FAA implement the above listed changes to 14 C.F.R. � 145 to ensure that special consideration is given to the unique issues facing small, general aviation oriented repair stations. Specifically, AOPA recommends that the FAA take steps to ensure that these repair stations are not burdened with facility, operation, record-keeping, training, and quality control requirements that are better suited for larger air-carrier oriented repair stations. Additionally, AOPA opposes the inclusion of an aircraft owner/operators name and address in any report of an unairworthy condition.

    AOPA maintains that the above mentioned changes to 14 C.F.R. � 145 will directly benefit the public and enhance aviation safety by insuring the continued operation and superlative safety record of general aviation repair stations.

    Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. AOPA stands ready to assist the FAA and the DOT in reconsidering the provisions of this rulemaking proposal.

    Respectfully,

    Dennis E. Roberts
    Vice President/Executive Director
    Government and Technical Affairs