As U.S. aviation safety-related regulatory evolutions go, 2013 will be remembered as a monumental year for pilots. Sweeping sets of new rules hit the books, revamping training standards and minimum qualifications for all U.S. airline pilots.
While 2014 isn't expected to bring comparable change on the maintenance side, a few rules are set to pop that could keep repair stations and technical operations divisions busy.
Leading the way is the long-awaited and now-infamous U.S.(TSA) repair station security rule. Despite a congressional mandate to have a rule out by 2004, a final version of the regulation still hadn't seen the light of day as 2013 wound down, though there were indications that its release was close.
Industry hopes so, but not because it wants the new regulations. In 2008, Congress—frustrated with TSA's foot-dragging—bannedfrom issuing new certificates to foreign repair stations until TSA issued its final rule. (The draft version hit the streets in 2009.) The ban created a queue of nearly 90 applications.
In March 2013, then-TSA Administrator John Pistole said the rule was in final review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Such reviews—routine for all rules—usually take anywhere from 30 to 90 days. This one has dragged on for six months. As 2013 drew to a close, the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) was lobbying Congress to lift the ban on new foreign certificates, new rule be damned.
Elsewhere, OMB in November 2013 got its hands on FAA's proposal to expand drug and alcohol testing for some foreign repair station workers. Mandated by Congress in the 2012 FAA reauthorization bill, the rule would close a perceived loophole in FAA procedures that limits testing to covered employees in U.S. locations. Barring an unusually long review or an issue that warrants sending the draft back to FAA for revisions, the draft of this rule should be released in 2014. The congressionally mandated deadline was February 2013.
FAA's mandate for Part 121 airlines to implement safety management systems (SMS) is working its way through the sometimes-byzantine rulemaking process. Released in draft form in November 2010, a final version of the rule didn't make it out of the Transportation Department—its first stop on the way to OMB—before being routed back to FAA for fine-tuning. FAA re-submitted it toin June, which—barring further complications—gives the rule a solid chance for publication by 2015.
Lurking in the shadows is what would be the most significant MRO-related final rule in years, FAA's proposal to modify Part 145, the main set of U.S. regulations for some 4,800 repair stations—including some 700 located outside the U.S.—that hold FAA certificates. The rule's major changes, a continuation of a partial Part 145 revamp finalized in 2001, would revise the repair station ratings system that has been around for decades.
The draft of the newest Part 145 came out in May 2012; the comment period closed in November 2012. Several groups, including the Aircraft Electronics Association and ARSA, opposed the proposal outright, and have been lobbying FAA to factor the nearly 250 public comments into a revamped draft. Word is that the alternative—release of a modified final rule based partly on industry input—is in store for 2014.
Add it all up—or even parts of it—and some in the industry are bracing for a costly year.
“The regulatory agencies, not just the FAA, will cost U.S. civil aviation maintenance more and more productivity and profitability,” says ARSA Executive Director Sarah MacLeod, who argues that the agency's priorities are misplaced.
“The lack of reciprocal agreements, like the one between the U.S. and Canada that allows work on each country's aircraft by the other without issuance of a certificate, impacts maintenance organizations disproportionately,” she says. “It is ironic that a production certificate need not be issued by every nation for parts and products to be acceptable, while the same is definitely not true for approved maintenance organizations' [repair station] certificates.”
MacLeod urged industry to get involved in rulemaking efforts.
“The trend should be for industry to work more closely on the legal underpinnings of the aviation regulations,” she says. “That means participation in International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as well as being more proactive in rulemaking at home.”