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Industry: FAA’s Proposed Mechanic Training Rules Too Rigid

FAA's proposed update to modernize the Part 147 maintenance school rule sticks with time-based, versus competency-based curriculum.

WASHINGTON—FAA’s proposed expansion of rules that aviation maintenance technician schools (AMTS) must follow to train mechanics will not please those in the industry who were hoping for more flexibility and less bureaucracy. 

FAA’s supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM), set for publication Apr. 16, seeks to make Part 147, which AMT schools must follow, more modern. Approved in 1970 and modified little since, Part 147 is far behind modern aviation technology, such as composite repair. A 2015 draft rule based largely on a 2009 industry rulemaking advisory group report addressed many of the modernization concerns, such as updating core competencies that students should learn.

But commenters identified two major issues: FAA’s insistence on an hours-based curriculum, not a competency-based one, as well as the growing need to teach classes at remote locations, such as high schools, that were not FAA approved. The SNPRM adds both of these, but with caveats: FAA would approve competency-based curriculum on a case-by-case basis, and it also would require approval of so-called satellite locations.

While encouraged by FAA’s progress, the Aviation Technical Education Council (ATEC) is concerned that the expanded rule would add more red tape than benefits.

“The agency’s insistence that it approve a school’s competency-based program is going to create nothing but bureaucratic roadblocks,” ATEC Executive Director Crystal Maguire said. “The FAA oversees safety, not education. It needs to leave the education part to [the Department of Education], which these schools are already beholden to as part of being accredited educational institutions.”

ATEC also expressed concern about how FAA proposes handling remote instruction, such as programs that partner with local high schools to offer introductory AMTS courses. Exposing potential mechanics to the business is seen as key to ensure industry has enough technicians in the coming years—part of the reason that airlines, repair stations, and AMTSs are partnering with local schools.

FAA’s plan for AMTSs is to either certify so-called “satellite” locations as dependent or independent. Both would require registering with FAA, and an independent operation would have to apply for its own Part 147 certificate. “Both types of satellite training locations must use the curriculum and procedures of the parent AMTS,” FAA explained in the updated draft rule’s preamble. “The independent satellite training locations, however, may implement differences in the curriculum and procedures, provided those differences are documented and accepted or approved by the FAA, as applicable.”

ATEC suggested language that permitted remote operations so long as the AMTS “provides suitable facilities, equipment, and material” similar to what the rules require of certificated schools.

“Adding [requirements] to the regulation on satellites that call for more government approval isn’t the answer,” Maguire said, expressing concern that existing high-school partners may pull back rather than seek FAA’s blessing to keep hosting AMTS classes.

The 170 active AMTSs produce about 60% of the 6,500 new aviation mechanics certified in the U.S. each year, with the rest coming from the military or other sources, such as industry-sponsored instruction.

The new draft rule will be open for public comment through June 15.

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