Aviation Regulators Map Out 2022 Recovery Plans

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Employment at MROs represented by the U.S.’s Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) has recovered to 8% short of pre-COVID levels as recovery of global aviation enters the nervous spring of 2022.

At ARSA’s spring conference, Executive Director Sarah MacLeod emphasized workforce development and Executive Vice President Christian Klein stressed the tens of billions in Federal aid secured, with ARSA’s help, for U.S. repair stations during the COVID-19 crisis.

The FAA’s new Associate Administrator, Billy Nolen, noted that agency staff will begin returning to offices in April, virtual inspections remain in the agency’s toolkit and he wants the FAA “to move as fast as the industry.” Nolen also told attendees the FAA has accepted 14 voluntary safety management systems (SMS) from repair shops and has 48 more pending. FAA Administrator Steve Dickson has also just signed off on new Part 147 rules for mechanic training.

Regulators from around the world then highlighted their recent and upcoming activities.

Shijun Xue, deputy director general of flight standards at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), provided a detailed description of the agency’s policies on used parts, which he said have become increasingly common in China due to economics, especially at cargo operators, and for legacy aircraft.

CAAC requires airworthiness tags—either its own or Form 1s from Hong Kong or Macao regulators—for all used parts, except in emergencies.

It also tightly controls purchasing channels for used parts, limiting providers to CAAC-approved MROs and distributors or an accepted data bank for disassembly parts. The agency tracks the source of these parts by removal tags to avoid having discarded or non-aviation parts enter the loop of civil aviation.

Xue says MROs, distributors and other providers of used parts for the Chinese market should seek approval of their industry associations and then apply directly to Chinese regulators. Teardown shops can seek local regulatory approval or a certificate from the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association.

By the end of 2021, CAAC had approved 491 domestic MROs and 474 foreign shops, with the U.S. accounting for more than 200 and Europe accounting for more than 100 approved shops.

Neil Williams, rulemaking manager at the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said his certification team has grown to 38 staff, with 60 expected in five years. “We are recruiting all over the world,” he added.

The CAA has concluded 11 aviation safety management agreements with other regulators and a technical implementation agreement with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and it is revising its technical implementation procedures for maintenance with the FAA. It will expand agreements with Japan, China and Singapore to include maintenance. The agency is also planning on an SMS program similar to EASA’s, but later in effect.

Head of Flight Standards Joao Garcia said Brazil’s Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil (ANAC) has finalized its Maintenance Implementation Procedures (MIP) with the FAA and is coordinating on a Maintenance Annex Guidance (MAG) with the agency. Both documents should be published soon. A revised draft roadmap for coordination with Transport Canada is in the works and due in 2023. An annex for Brazil’s Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) with EASA and a MAG with EASA should be signed in 2022.

Brazil’s aviation regulations are being simplified, and ANAC is moving forward on SMSs.

Jeffrey Phipps, chief of operational airworthiness standards at Transport Canada (TC), noted that the extra time for renewing aircraft mechanic licenses will expire on July 31, as will easier requirements for recent work. TC staff have begun returning to offices.

The TC-FAA MIP, revision 2, should be ready in July, and the TC-EASA MAG, revision 3, is expected in December. Phipps expects a technical arrangement with ANAC in early 2023.

TC continues to pursue its digitalization efforts, as do most modern aviation regulators, and Phipps says it is open to exploitation of many different industry systems.

TC’s exemption rule for non-required safety enhancing equipment is expected in May, and the agency is also working on lifting interview requirements for MRO managers.

Ralf Erckman, EASA’s deputy director of flight standards, said the agency will focus more on management of health risks after COVID-19. The agency has just published its overall plan for aviation safety 2022-26, laying out other regulatory priorities. These include return of aircraft to operations, SMSs, business aviation, rotorcraft, general aviation, virtual certification, exploiting artificial intelligence, single pilot operations, drones and hydrogen power. EASA will also be seeking to streamline its consultation process with industry.

Due in May are an EASA rule better describing instructions for continued airworthiness, a rule on production of parts without Form 1, a rule for SMS in design and production, and simpler rules for general aviation. SMS will begin applying to aircraft maintenance in December.

In EASA’s pipeline for future rulemaking are environmental rules for supersonic aircraft, a review of Part 147 training requirements and rules for drone certification and cyber security.

Finally, Erkman said EASA and the FAA continue to work on building trust in each other under their BASA.

Rober Ruiz, acting deputy executive director of flight standards at the FAA, said the agency plans to propose SMS rules in September, with a final rule due about a year later. New rules on aviation maintenance schools should be published in August.

Ruiz says the FAA saw a lot of attrition during COVID-19 and that future use of remote inspections will be made by risk-based decisions. MIP agreements with Brazil and Japan are now in the works.