FAA, swayed by industry input that started with an Aeronautical Repair Station Association inquiry, has dropped an interpretation of its rule on what dictates required time off for airline mechanics.
The news, delivered December 26 via a formal response (.pdf) to an ARSA complaint lodged in 2010 (.pdf), clarifies what Part 121.377 means--and that clarification aligns with what most of industry has long believed.
First, the language in question:
Within the United States, each certificate holder (or person performing maintenance or preventive maintenance functions for it) shall relieve each person performing maintenance or preventive maintenance from duty for a period of at least 24 consecutive hours during any seven consecutive days, or the equivalent thereof within any one calendar month.
Now, the debate: In May 2010, Pratt & Whitney asked FAA to, among other things, clarify what the above language meant in terms of an actual work schedule. Does "or the equivalent thereof" mean--as industry has long believed--that a work schedule with four days off for every four (six-day) weeks worked is compliant, or must a compliant schedule contain one full day off in every seven-day period?
FAA told Pratt & Whitney (.pdf) it was the latter, and that set ARSA off (.pdf). Rather than render a decision directly to the association, FAA posed the question to the public, publishing a Federal Register notice (Docket FAA-2011-0367) in April 2011.
Industry responded, overwhelmingly siding with ARSA.
The text of the regulation is straightforward, and employers and employees have relied on the flexibility designed into section 121.377 to safely and efficiently manage maintenance requirements for many years....Moving from a monthly process (checking duty time at the end of the month) to a weekly process (essentially checking duty daily) will take both additional resources in the administration staff and upgrades to the legacy systems for time and attendance. The new interpretation will require manual changes, process changes on the part of the administrative staff and most importantly, enhancements to legacy IT architecture at increased costs to the carriers.
Based on the plain language of Section 121.377, TWU believes that pre-existing and longstanding interpretation of the regulation was correct, that there is no basis in rule for changing it to require that mechanics employed by certificate holders and by persons who perform maintenance for certificate holders must have one day off in seven except for extreme circumstances.
Industry's input swayed FAA (.pdf).
"Upon review of the comments, the FAA agrees that the proposed interpretation of the 'equivalency language' found in the §121.377 rest requirements for maintenance personnel would change prior longstanding precedent," the agency told ARSA.
FAA will soon formalize all of this in a Federal Register notice.
Two industry takeaways?
Don't assume that FAA's word is always etched in stone, and don't take for granted the efforts that your associations and unions are constantly engaged in on your behalf.
Heck, you might even consider supporting a few of them.