Capitol Hill

Solving ‘The Secrets of Continued Airworthiness?’

Maintenance industry executives repeatedly highlight one concern to the FAA: the availability of maintenance information.

Last March, maintenance industry executives came to Washington for high-level briefings with government officials. During a visit to the FAA, participants repeatedly highlighted one concern: the availability of maintenance information. Respondents to this year’s Aeronautical Repair Station Association  (ARSA) member survey rated the issue as the biggest risk to their businesses along with “difficulty finding/retaining technical talent.”

Considering the long history regarding Instructions for Continued Airworthiness (ICA), an agency official asked: “How many times do we have to solve this problem?” Once would be nice.

ICA issues were instrumental in the founding of ARSA 35 years ago. We’re still working the issue: The rule dictates that ICA be prepared by design approval holders (DAH), provided to owners and made available to maintainers and others required to comply. We’re still struggling to get it right.

EASA just finished collecting comments, including ARSA’s, to its Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) 2018-01. While the proposal has some positive attributes, it does not fully repair the long-standing disconnect between design and maintenance rules. The proposal does seek to standardize ICA practices and enhance EASA’s control by making the complete ICA part of the product’s type certificate. It suggests the ICA include actions required to restore a product or article to an airworthy condition before its limitations are exceeded or it becomes unairworthy, as an alternative to withdrawal from service. Subsequently, the proposal points out that not all articles must have maintenance instructions if restoration to an airworthy condition is not realistic. Unfortunately, it also recognizes that “remove and replace” is a viable option for ensuring the product’s airworthiness, even when the replacement component can be maintained.

The NPA continues to cede significant authority to the DAH for determining which component maintenance manuals (CMM) are in the ICA, leaving the vast majority of those manuals outside the ICA and therefore not subject to the “make available” requirement. Considering that the European Commission’s anticompetitiveness investigation appears stalled, there is no imminent solution to the government-induced monopoly. EASA did not address restrictions that render the ICA constructively unavailable or the practices of removing repairs and/or directing that articles be returned to the OEM for maintenance, and imposing source-approval requirements for appropriately rated approved maintenance organizations.

With safety management systems, the disconnect between the design and maintenance rules is obvious. Under the design rules, most components do not require a CMM, but tell that to the regulator demanding them from a continuing airworthiness management organization under EASA rules. Regulators do not countenance the withholding of flight manual information from operators because it was not part of the operating limitations. Why do they countenance the withholding of component maintenance data from those required to comply with those instructions?

When EASA first started this rulemaking project, it held a public meeting in which one of its managers referred to ICA as the “Secrets for Continued Airworthiness.” He was not joking. Unfortunately, what began with a lot of promise appears to have succumbed to the usual politics of aviation safety. 

Marshall S. Filler is managing member of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein plc, and the ARSA managing director and general counsel. 

 

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