Regulatory Inconsistency Challenges U.S. Repair Stations

man showing woman document
Confusion between FAA and EASA parts documentation requirements is causing headaches for U.S. repair stations.
Credit: Auremar/Adobe Stock

Thanks to “big data,” “machine learning” and intelligence (both human and so-called “artificial”), predictive maintenance has long been used to limit costs and aircraft downtime. The technical possibility of seeing faults before they occur merely highlights what cannot be foreseen by software.

We can schedule the replacement of a component, but how can we stay ahead of regulatory inconsistency?

In late May, repair stations were notified by the FAA that it had changed its administrative mind regarding the acceptability of ARSA’s E100 Form for compliance with parts documentation requirements under the U.S./EU bilateral aviation safety agreement. Rather than relying on its own previous logic, the U.S. agency bowed to pressure from its European counterpart.

In 2016, the FAA stood behind its rules and upheld the requirement that a Part 145 certificate holder determine suitability of articles for installation. The ARSA-produced E100 Form documented a maintenance inspection of a new part to keep business moving in the face of misalignment between the production documentation requirements in the Technical Implementation Procedures and the Maintenance Annex Guidance. But unfortunately, the agency has unpredictably reversed its decision.

The FAA’s letter to ARSA about the new decision clearly establishes the agency’s inability to understand how the U.S. system is different from—but equivalent to—Europe’s. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) does not have a Part 43 in its regulations; FAA does. EASA depends upon paperwork to establish “airworthiness,” while the FAA gives the maintenance provider the authority and responsibility to determine eligibility for installation regardless of the paper accompanying the article. By denying that authority, repair stations have no recourse when production approval-holders fail to issue the “magic form” (an authorized release certificate) to satisfy European demands in guidance material.

While ARSA and its allies act on this specific issue—the association has already delivered a new letter to the FAA offering ways out of the mess—six years of waiting for a resolution shows the dangers of regulatory vagary. When government changes its mind and turns its back on previously sound reasoning, predictability—and thus the system—suffers. Certificate-holders cannot effectively manage risk, as the FAA directs in Safety Management System guidance, when the agency itself threatens business and compliance without any safety basis.

Technology advances. How can humanity keep up when regulators remain unpredictable?

Sarah MacLeod is managing member of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein and a founder and executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association. She has advocated for individuals and companies on international aviation safety law, policy and compliance issues since the 1980s.