The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has organized an unprecedented meeting with the Federal Aviation Administration to improve the airworthiness directive (AD) process.
AOPA, in consultation with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), has invited the FAA and representatives of the nation's major aircraft type clubs/owner organizations to its Frederick, Maryland, headquarters July 10. The gathering will discuss a new FAA airworthiness directive (AD) coordination process—a policy to give the FAA better information and user community input on resolving airworthiness concerns.
"This new initiative is vital to the continued health of general aviation," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "It follows a common-sense idea: if you have to look at aircraft airworthiness, talk to the people with firsthand experience.
"Tapping into real-world experience, the FAA can avoid some of the unnecessary, impractical, or overly burdensome ADs we've suffered in the past. The agency can also more easily identify alternative means of compliance, if appropriate."
This AD coordination process concludes several years of work behind the scenes between the FAA, AOPA, EAA, the Citabria Owners Group, and the American Champion Aircraft Corporation.
For years as part of its efforts to control the cost of flying, AOPA has analyzed proposed airworthiness directives to be sure they are necessary and reasonable. AOPA has drawn frequently on the real-world expertise of type clubs, owners, operators, and mechanics.
Sometimes, AOPA and others got to work with the FAA before it proposed an AD. More often, the FAA didn't get industry input until after an AD was proposed or issued.
Recently, however, user community involvement has led to better ADs in several notable cases. Among them: the hard-fought AD on exhaust systems in Cessna turbocharged twins and the American Champion wing spar AD. These successes demonstrated that early user consultation can yield a better AD.
The FAA has already drafted a supplement to its airworthiness directive handbook based on input from groups working on the AD coordination concept. This "Airworthiness Concern Process Guide" will direct FAA aircraft certification offices to solicit input from aircraft type clubs/owner organizations when developing airworthiness actions.
The guide also establishes a formalized "risk assessment" to help determine what kind of airworthiness action is required.
"In the past, the FAA offered their people no formal guidance on how and when to issue an AD," said Boyer. "Consequently, the FAA sometimes issued an AD when another, less burdensome action would have addressed a safety concern."
AOPA has already distributed the FAA's draft AD guidebook to type clubs and owner organizations for comment. The FAA will incorporate that input and present a revised guidebook draft at the July 10 meeting at AOPA.
"The input and perspective of type clubs is absolutely essential to the success of this effort," said Boyer. "That's why AOPA took the initiative to assure their involvement."
After the July 10 meeting, the FAA will develop a "first edition" AD coordination document, scheduled to be ready for presentation at EAA's AirVenture event in August.
AOPA, working with major type clubs, will monitor the resulting AD coordination process. The association will give the FAA an initial "report card" during the AOPA Expo 2000 convention in October and discuss with the FAA any changes needed.
"The new AD coordination process will be especially valuable for 'orphan' aircraft that are no longer supported by a manufacturer," said Boyer.
"And if a manufacturer lobbies the FAA for a 'fix' to a problem we're not experiencing in the field, input from owners will enable a more-educated FAA decision on the best course of action. This is revolutionary thinking on airworthiness directives.
"Through a spirit of cooperation and knowledge sharing, we can continue to ensure the airworthiness of the entire general aviation fleet while maintaining the highest level of safety, and do so at reasonable cost."
The 360,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of the nation's pilots, and 75 percent of aircraft owners, are AOPA members.
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June 14, 2000