Several proposals—including a renewed push for expanded drug and alcohol testing and new background checks—have the maintenance industry keeping a close eye on the recently introduced FAA reauthorization bill.

                                                                       

The proposed Aviation Innovation, Reform & Reauthorization (AIRR) Act repeats a call in the current reauthorization bill to mandate drug and alcohol testing at all repair stations, consistent with local laws. This version would give the FAA deadlines to write a draft rule within 90 days and a final rule within one year.

Calling the time line “hurried,” and noting the continued absence of a safety justification, the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) asked for the provision to be removed, in a letter to the bill’s sponsors: the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Bill Shuster (R-Pa.); and chairman of its aviation subcommittee, Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.).

“As an alternative, the AIRR Act could set a deadline for the secretaries of state and transportation to engage ICAO and report to Congress on the results,” ARSA noted. “The convention and treaty that created [International Civil Aviation Organization] ICAO is the chosen method for the United States to address international issues such as drug and alcohol testing.”

Chris Moore, chairman of the Teamsters Aviation Mechanics Coalition, credited union representatives’ efforts, including “hours walking the halls of the Senate and House office buildings” for helping land the renewed call for testing expansion.

FAA did not ignore the last congressional call for expanded testing, which mandated a draft rule by early February 2013. In March 2014, the agency issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, seeking input on the challenges of crafting a rule that complied with the myriad laws that govern drug and alcohol testing in countries that have FAA-approved repair stations. Much of the feedback highlighted these challenges, pointing out that some countries prohibit random testing.

FAA’s acknowledgment that no safety justification exists for expanding its testing rules, which have been in place for U.S.-based shops for 25 years, did not help its case.

The EU, which underscored the lack of a safety justification, said then that testing should be an issue taken up by ICAO.

But then came Germanwings Flight 9525, which investigators believe was intentionally flown into the ground by the Airbus A320’s first officer (Aviation Daily, March 30, 2015). A task force studying ways to mitigate the risk of such acts recommended random drug and alcohol testing for pilots and suggested the programs—once established—”might be considered” for “other safety-critical professionals.”

This may open the door, at least in Europe, to a proposal like the one in the FAA bill.

The legislation also calls for pre-employment background checks. This, ARSA noted, goes “significantly” beyond current U.S. Transportation Security Administration requirements, and could place undue cost burdens on smaller shops.

Other proposed changes with MRO flavor include 18 “safety certification reform” actions. Among them: formation of a safety oversight and certification advisory committee, a call for a dedicated section in FAA’s rules governing organization designation authorizations and a requirement to establish metrics for improving aircraft certification performance objectives, including “achieving full utilization of FAA delegation and designation authorities.”

Another section of the bill proposes that FAA automatically accept foreign airworthiness directives (ADs) from bilateral partners, such as the EU, without the current draft notice-and-comment periods. “This could impose an unworkable burden on smaller U.S. companies to track foreign AD proposals,” noted the Modification and Replacement Parts Association. “[It] will mean that the U.S. companies will have to comment on the foreign ADs, because it will have no reasonable opportunity to comment on a U.S. version if the FAA is required to accept foreign ADs.”

The bill also proposes more targeted surveillance of foreign repair stations that perform heavy maintenance on U.S.-registered aircraft. FAA’s approach should account “for the frequency and seriousness of any corrective actions that Part 121 air carriers must implement to aircraft following such work at such repair stations,” the bill says.

ARSA called the provision duplicative, noting that FAA already has the authority to target surveillance and “access relevant maintenance data.”