Opinon: FAA Trips Itself Up With AD Legal Interpretation

As the Aeronautical Repair Station Association points out, the FAA misunderstands the relationship among the design, production, maintenance and operating rules in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

In April, the FAA responded to public comments on a proposed legal interpretation that clarified the agency’s position on how to comply with an airworthiness directive (AD). That interpretation was issued in response to the Airworthiness Directive Implementation Aviation Rulemaking Committee (AD ARC), which asked the agency to elaborate on an operator’s continuing obligation to maintain a product in an AD-mandated configuration after the unsafe condition is resolved. Unfortunately, the most recent interpretation reiterates that products affected by an AD will never be able to reenter a traditional maintenance program.

As the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) pointed out in its comments, the FAA misunderstands the relationship among the design, production, maintenance and operating rules in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The agency disregards the overall regulatory structure thereby creating conflicting requirements and considerable confusion. When applied as intended, the rules provide a logical means to address unsafe conditions in both new products and operating aircraft.

The FAA’s proposed interpretation, however, finds that initial and continuing compliance with all ADs is required. This overly inclusive approach to AD compliance even encompasses those directives that require a “terminating action”—such as one that instructs maintenance providers to remove or replace a defective part—to correct a product’s unsafe condition. The agency asserts that once the terminating action is completed, the resulting configuration is an FAA-approved type design that must be maintained under subsections 39.7 and 39.9.

The aviation industry, including a number of AD ARC members, have vigorously rejected this position because, once the AD actions have been accomplished, Part 39 compliance is terminated and the proper operation, condition and continued airworthiness of the aircraft are dictated by the relevant regulations for those activities.

In order to be airworthy, an aircraft must conform to its type design and be in a condition for safe operation. New aircraft released from the factory without the unsafe condition under an updated type design are maintained and operated in accordance with Part 43 and the various operations rules. If an aircraft’s type design is modified by an AD, there is no reason to treat it differently and require it to be maintained under Part 39. In both instances the aircraft must be maintained in an airworthy condition. 

Ryan Poteet is regulatory affairs manager at ARSA.

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