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Fix the field approval process, AOPA tells the FAAFix the field approval process, AOPA tells the FAA

Fix the field approval process, AOPA tells the FAA

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AOPA is calling on the FAA to make it easier and less expensive for aircraft owners to install new avionics in their aircraft. And with the current shortage of FAA inspectors, it's all the more critical to safely simplify the alteration approval process.

"Advances in aviation technology benefit pilots by providing better situational awareness and ultimately enhancing safety and utility for general aviation," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory policy. "AOPA believes that streamlining the approval process will allow for easier safety-enhancing alterations to be made on general aviation aircraft."

In sum, AOPA is asking the FAA to allow mechanics and repair stations to use "acceptable" data as "approved" data for alterations (that includes avionics installations) to non-pressurized piston aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds. That may sound like gobbledygook to most pilots, but what it really means is that local shops would be able to "sign off" the installation without having to wait for an FAA inspector from the local flight standards district office (FDSO) to go over the paperwork to provide a "field approval."

Here's an example of why that's a big deal:

An AOPA member had several items installed in his single-engine aircraft early June. It was a fairly simple job, but the circumstances required an FSDO sign-off on the 337 forms, and so the member waited - and waited - for nearly three months.

Despite several attempts to speed the process along, the FAA made it clear that, because of the shortage of inspectors, field approval requests from private aircraft owners were placed lower on the action priority list.

Now here's how it would work if the FAA were to accept AOPA's recommended revisions to "Advisory Circular 43.13-2A, Acceptable Methods, Techniques, and Practices - Aircraft Alterations":

The mechanic installs the equipment according to the FAA advisory circular's and manufacturer's instructions. The shop's A&P mechanic who has inspection authorization (IA) privileges signs off that the installation is airworthy and will not adversely affect aircraft safety or performance. Aircraft owner flies away happy.

"We went through 10 years of data in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's accident database," said Luis Gutierrez, AOPA director of regulatory and certification policy, "and found that only 0.07 percent of the general aviation accidents were attributed to improper alterations. Clearly our GA mechanics know what they're doing."

And what AOPA is asking for is not without precedent. Already the FAA permits the use of "acceptable" data as "approved" data for major repairs.

It also fits in with the FAA's overall goal of encouraging the installation of advanced technologies such as GPS-WAAS to reduce GA accidents. "The current approval process creates a barrier to avionics upgrades without adding any safety benefit," said Gutierrez.

Oh, and there is one other little thing AOPA would like to see changed. Current policies require FSDO approval for the panel placards and aircraft flight manual supplements that usually come with an avionics upgrade, even if the equipment installation itself can be done without a field approval. "We strongly urge the FAA to develop a strategy that results in the seamless installation of certified avionics without further coordination with the FSDOs," said Gutierrez.

August 30, 2005

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