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Piper rudder AD 'tarnishes' process, AOPA contends

A chorus of aviators, aviation mechanics, and groups including AOPA called for the FAA to rescind a proposed airworthiness directive that would affect nearly 31,000 vintage Piper aircraft, citing a lack of evidence of risk, unjustifiably broad scope, and a broken process.

The FAA included more than 30,000 vintage Piper models, including this PA-11, in an airworthiness directive that AOPA and others deemed far too inclusive for the available facts to justify. Photo by Chris Rose.

The proposed AD, published October 6, was drafted in response to two separate "accidents," according to the proposal—a classification that was among many points disputed by the Short Wing Piper Club in comments filed February 8 that AOPA supported (in addition to providing its own comments). The events in question both took place in Alaska, in 2020 and 2021, involving rudder component failures in flight that ended with both aircraft landing successfully with dog-eared rudders and a broken rudder post.

"There is no evidence or reports of broken rudders," the Short Wing Piper Club wrote. "The results between a broken post and a failure of the rudder assembly are significantly different. The rudder assembly’s operation was significantly reduced, but it did not fail. The broken posts did not result in an accident; rather, the reports were of incidents."

The group, which consulted with AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Murray Huling, who, in turn, cited the group's technical analysis in AOPA's comments, found fault with many aspects of the proposal, including estimated cost, and the lack of provision for acceptable repairs.

Huling, in AOPA's comments, noted the proposed AD's applicability is "severely out of scope."

"AOPA understands the necessity to issue an AD when a valid safety concern is identified and verified; however, when a blanket applicability statement is utilized, as in this case ... over 30,000 aircraft, of which the majority should not be affected by the AD, it tarnishes the FAA AD process," Huling wrote. "AOPA requests that the FAA accomplish a thorough review based on the evidence provided by numerous commenters."

Huling noted that AOPA and the FAA have since identified a breakdown in the airworthiness concern sheet process that "failed to achieve its intended goal" in this case.

"AOPA reached out to the FAA office responsible for the ACS process and discovered that the system put in place years ago had dwindled to being almost non-existent. AOPA is stepping up and is working with the FAA to reinstitute the ACS notification process to help ensure this type of situation does not arise again. The FAA can then reach out to the industry for expertise before issuing a proposed AD. The revamped ACS process is in development now, and we hope to have it fully operational in the next few months. AOPA appreciates the FAA's help in bringing this important tool back. "

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.

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