A proposed policy on manufacturer-developed maintenance instructions is raising concerns that the agency is wandering into competitive issues rather than sticking to safety regulation.
FAA proposed the policy to clarify its position on the availability of instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA), saying it was not acceptable for manufacturers/design-approval holders (DAHs) to limit the distribution of ICA by placing contractual requirements or adding restrictive language to control the use of the instructions.
The policy is supported by supplier and distributor groups, which say manufacturers have increasingly used licenses with built-in restrictions on the use of ICA. The manufacturers themselves support the concept behind the policy to protect against efforts to restrict use of the instructions.
But the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and the Aerospace Industries Association, which jointly commented on the policy proposal, also worry that the policy blurs the line between ICA and other maintenance information developed for purposes other than safety, such as to lower operating cost or improving the product. Manufacturers further are concerned that the policy could enable easier copyright violations or misuse of proprietary information. “We are concerned that the proposed policy statement, as written, infers a rigid and absolute limitation toward any restrictive or protective statements within an ICA or other additional maintenance information provided by DAHs,” the associations say.
And, while the repair stations in the past have been aligned opposite manufacturers on ICA issues, they too believe the language is ambiguous and so unenforceable. Aeronautical Repair Station Association Executive Director Sarah MacLeod says, “We don’t want a policy that they can’t enforce. If it can’t be enforced, it’s worthless. We want FAA to fully balance the safety regulation it controls with commercial endeavors companies choose to enter into.”
MacLeod believes FAA needs first to clarify the definition of ICA. Walter Desrosier, vice president of maintenance and engineering for GAMA, agrees that FAA and industry have been grappling with what constitutes ICA and what is additional maintenance information. Desrosier adds that industry hopes the issue will be turned over for recommendations to a stakeholder group such as an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee. GAMA further has been seeking policy guidance for the dissemination of the ICA, he adds, noting that with changes in technology and practices, this has become less clear.
Suppliers and distributors have supported the proposed policy language as “an important first step to restoring some reasonableness to the ICA system,” says the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.
The Aviation Suppliers Association adds, “ASA believes that this policy statement will improve the free flow of safety information and will curtail anticompetitive use of safety data that threatens aviation safety.”