mr-washingtonseanbroderick-awstpromo.jpg.crop_display.jpg Sean Broderick/AW&ST

FAA Takes Long-Awaited Shot At ICA Guidance

The FAA has taken a major step in explaining how maintenance manuals should be distributed—but has anything changed?

The FAA’s first attempt at comprehensive guidance for a three-decade-old rule drew an understandable response from industry: a request for more time to review the proposal.

In mid-August the FAA issued its long-awaited draft advisory circular (AC) on developing and distributing instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA), such as maintenance manuals. The 67-page document is the agency’s most significant attempt at addressing what has become an increasingly contentious issue: determining what data manufacturers must provide repair stations and others in the MRO business.

The draft AC basically rolls up one-off interpretations the FAA has provided in the 34 years since it established its ICA standards, several industry sources say. It does not provide new guidance, nor does it appear to leave out anything that the agency has clarified.

“The FAA is gradually moving toward establishing elements of what is essential to continued airworthiness,” says Jason Dickstein, president of the Modification and Replacement Parts Association (Marpa). Sarah MacLeod, executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), calls the draft a “positive step” in an agency “continuum” to define ICAs and how they must be provided. ARSA and Marpa are among many in the industry carefully reviewing the proposed guidance and formulating detailed comments.

ICA distribution used to be about one thing: ensuring safety. Operators purchasing aircraft would get a complete set of manuals needed to keep them airworthy. But as third-party maintenance has ramped up, the ICA issue has changed. Some manufacturers are reluctant to hand over their intellectual property to MRO providers unless the repair stations have a demonstrated need, such as contracts in hand from an operator. Others attach high price tags or specific conditions, pushing the envelope on what the regulations define as “make available.” OEMs ramping up their aftermarket operations means ICAs become even more competitively valuable, making the issue still more complex.

While requirements to follow OEM-provided instructions first appeared in U.S. regulations in 1938, the current ICA regulations were not established until 1980. The FAA clarified that design approval holders (DAH)—basically manufacturers—must “furnish” a complete set of ICAs to an aircraft owner upon the equipment’s delivery. The agency also mandated that ICAs and any changes to them must be “made . . . available to any other person required by [the regulations] to comply with any of the terms of those instructions,” including repair stations.

Since 1980, the FAA’s explanations of its requirements have largely come via responses to specific industry queries. For instance, a 2009 exchange between ARSA and FAA clarified that if component maintenance manuals (CMM) are referenced in the airworthiness limitations section, then the CMMs are part of the ICA and must be provided accordingly. In other cases, the FAA has used policy statements to tackle narrow issues such as prohibiting restrictive language in ICAs that dictates use of only OEM-provided parts.

ARSA filed four complaints to the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) in 2003-08. In 2009, EASA ordered a task force to study possible new ICA-related regulations. The task force’s work is still in progress.

The FAA has yet to respond to any ARSA complaints, and the association, citing “staleness,” withdrew one.

While ARSA acknowledges that the FAA’s one-off interpretations, policy statements and draft guidance are positive steps, it has long maintained that better ICA policy requires clarifying four issues: the “nature and extent of information” that is essential to continued airworthiness, what ICA documents should contain, who is required to comply with ICAs, and how ICAs should be made available. The FAA’s previous clarifications have not focused on these issues, ARSA maintains, and the draft guidance does not appear to break new ground.

The FAA gave industry a comment deadline of Oct. 6. ARSA and seven other associations, noting ICA guidance is a “complicated issue” that the FAA “has struggled with for more than 30 years,” in late August asked for an extension of the comment period. They had not received a response at press time. 

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