The congressional mandate that has created a backlog of foreign repair station applications also has forced airlines to reconsider expansion and contract maintenance plans because desired locations do not have FAA-approved shops, industry executives report.

FAA has been legally prohibited from issuing new foreign repair station certifications since August 2008. The ban is tied to a mandate from the December 2003 FAA reauthorization bill. When the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) missed its initial 2004 deadline and a revised 2008 deadline, the ban automatically kicked in. TSA issued a draft of its rule in November 2009, but the law says the ban’s removal will occur only after a final rule is issued.

The ban affects both existing and new repair stations seeking first-time approval to work on N-registered aircraft. FAA Aircraft Repair Station Branch Manager Darcy Reed says there are 80 applications in queue from shops seeking to join the 700 existing FAA-approved maintenance, repair and overhaul providers (MROs) outside the U.S. A 2011 Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) survey found that several companies are waiting to apply once the ban is lifted, suggesting the real backlog is greater.

The impact goes well beyond MRO shops’ bottom lines. Dave Giustozzi, American Airlines chief inspector-maintenance & engineering, says the carrier recently sought to add an international destination, but had second thoughts because no local MRO providers have or can get an FAA certificate, even though they are willing to make the effort.

“We all have ways to get around the one-offs, but I’d much rather have [an FAA-] certified entity at every station we fly,” Giustozzi told attendees at ARSA’s recent annual symposium.

The ban has kept Atlas Air from expanding its scheduled maintenance vendor list, says Mark Swearingen, the carrier’s VP-technical operations. “There are a couple of new vendors that we’d like to try, but they’re off the table” because they are not FAA-approved, he told ARSA attendees.

So far, the ban has not drawn retaliation. Karl Specht, EASA’s Continuing Airworthiness Organisation manager, says his agency is “still issuing certificates for initial approvals in the U.S., and we will continue to do so.” The U.S. is home to about 1,200 EASA-approved repair stations.

Industry received good news last week when the Office of Management and Budget--which reviews pending federal regulations----acknowledged receipt of TSA’s proposed rule. TSA Administrator John Pistole then told the House transportation security subcommittee that the final rule “should” be out by yearend.