A recent NTSB decision could have very expensive consequences for aircraft owners, which is why AOPA is unleashing its legal and regulatory experts to fight it.
The safety board, ruling on a recent enforcement action against a mechanic ( Administrator v. Law ), seemed to say that aircraft manufacturers could make service bulletins (SBs) mandatory, essentially giving them the same force of law as an airworthiness directive (AD).
"That is neither AOPA's nor the FAA's interpretation of the regulations," said Luis Gutierrez, AOPA director of regulatory and certification policy. "Service bulletins are considered advisory, not mandatory, for Part 91 operators."
If the NTSB interpretation stands, the cost to aircraft owners could be substantial. That's because there are usually more SBs issued by the manufacturer than ADs approved by the FAA. SBs are sometimes issued for things not directly related to immediate airworthiness concerns.
But SBs can't be made mandatory for aircraft owners flying their aircraft in noncommercial operations. In a letter of interpretation AOPA requested in 2001, the FAA's Small Airplane Directorate said, "Small airplane design approval holders cannot unilaterally impose mandatory compliance with manufacturers' SBs." And while the NTSB ruling seemed to say that future SBs could be mandatory as well, the FAA's 2001 letter to AOPA said otherwise. "FAA policy does not permit a predetermination that compliance with some future document is mandatory."
A 2004 letter of interpretation to AOPA from the FAA's Aircraft Maintenance Division said that if the FAA hasn't approved it, it isn't mandatory.
"We've asked our legal counsel to thoroughly research this issue so that we have all the ammunition to reinforce the longstanding rulings that SBs are recommendations, not mandates, for Part 91 operators," said Gutierrez. "We will always strive to keep general aviation aircraft safe and affordable. The AD process ensures that we do what's needed to fix safety problems but not spend more than necessary."
June 14, 2006