Word has it that the FAA is working on a fix to what a group of trade associations say was a major change to the recently issued revamp of repair station rules that, if followed verbatim, would cause service difficulty report (SDR) volumes to swell unnecessarily.
The problem stems from the FAA’s removal of the word “serious” from a section of the regulation that requires repair stations to report failures, malfunctions or defects via SDRs. The revamped rules, which go into force Nov. 10, are much less sweeping than what the safety agency proposed in its 2012 draft rule. Among the proposed changes dropped in the final rule: a ratings system revamp.
But one change that made it in is a seven-letter alteration of the language in Part 145.221, clarifying that a repair station “must report to the FAA within 96 hr. after it discovers any failure, malfunction, or defect of an article.” The previous rule included the word “serious” between “any” and “failure.”
Most troubling to industry is that the change was not included in the draft version released for public comment in 2012 that generated 250 comments. Those comments helped convince the FAA to scale back the final rule.
The agency in the final rule’s preamble maintains that the change corrects what amounts to a clerical mistake made in 2000, when “serious” was inadvertently added to the rule’s language as part of another rules modification.
“The removal of the term ‘serious’
. . . does not change a standard, nor will there be any effect on regulated entities other than to prevent future misunderstandings that would have been resolved when interested persons contacted the FAA,” the agency explained. “Accordingly, due to the nature and circumstances of the error explained above, the FAA finds that further notice and comment are unnecessary to effect the correction.”
The associations—led by the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) and including Airlines For America, Aerospace Industries Association, Cargo Airline Association, National Air Carrier Association, Aircraft Electronics Association, National Air Transport Association, and National Business Aviation Association—see things differently.
The associations even cite the FAA’s own reasoning behind the 2003 re-introduction of “serious” into the rule.
“[I]t was not FAA’s intent to require repair stations to report all failures, malfunctions, and defects,” the safety agency wrote in 2003, the petition notes. “Therefore, FAA is reinserting the word ‘serious’ before the word ‘failure,’” the agency explained at that time.
The associations argue that the rationale for specifying that only serious flaws require SDRs is just as valid today as it was a decade ago.
“The burden of reporting ‘any failure, malfunction or defect’ is as costly today as when the original removal of the word was contemplated,” the associations aver. “Articles come to repair stations because of those stated conditions; without the word ‘serious’ all items received for work would have to be reported under the rule.”
The associations note that the costs of ramping up SDR reporting would be “incalculable,” and the safety benefit would be minimal. “It would merely inundate the agency’s database.”
The petition calls on FAA to issue a direct final rule emphasizing that only serious defects require SDRs. The “direct final rule” approach, which the associations say is an option because it is “in the public interest” to act quickly, would not require public comment before being put into place.
The FAA in early October opened the petition up for public comment. Among those weighing in was Aviation Technical Services (ATS), which illustrated the potential ramifications of the new requirement.
“During scheduled checks on aircraft, we identify many discrepancies that are not serious, i.e. chipped paint, debris in seat tracks, torn seat covers, etc. With the rule change, we will now be obligated to report these to the FAA,” ATS noted. “For us, this will result in the additional burden of filling out literally thousands of reports a year which were not required previously.”
It is not clear whether the FAA is preparing to take action by the Nov. 10 effective date of the new regulations. Also unclear are ramifications of the new rule’s language if a fix is not put into place until after the new rules are in. Because enforcement of the repair station regulations is done at the Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) level, it is conceivable that different interpretations could be put into place, meaning some repair stations could be required to report based on the new rule’s requirements, while others will maintain the status quo.
“This is why we scrutinize the rules,” says ARSA Executive Director Sarah MacLeod. “One misplaced or misused word can cause a whole lot of trouble for repair stations, their customers and—in the end—the flying public. [T]he agency has the opportunity to quickly make things right.”
A version of this article appears in the November 3/10 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology.