Printed headline: Join the Club
An industry watchdog is expanding its reach in an effort to educate a broader audience on the restrictive OEM aftermarket. In response to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) call for information on the availability of repair data, the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) made the case for an intervention, arguing that widespread anticompetitive practices by design approval holders (DAH) negatively affect repair stations, their customers and the general public.
The FTC workshop, dubbed “Nixing the Fix: A Workshop on Repair Restrictions,” examines repairability issues across all business sectors and the impact manufacturer-imposed limitations have on consumer protection under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. The commission is seeking data to better understand problems that arise when a manufacturer restricts an independent repair shop’s ability to make product repairs.
Comments submitted by representatives from various industries will resonate with MROs that have long sought relief from FAA mandates for inaccessible maintenance data. The Auto Care Association describes the reluctance of some manufacturers to provide requisite data despite “Right to Repair” mandates in the automobile industry. Other commenters voice parallel challenges affecting the repair of printing cartridges, iPhones and computers.
A dissenting opinion—submitted by Microsoft—contends that government should defer to the market on such matters. “If repairability is an important factor, there are devices in the market that are readily repairable, and consumers can use their purchasing power to select such devices,” said the tech giant.
Not to be left out, ARSA provided a voice for independent MRO repair stations. In its submission, the association sets forth the long history of maintenance data restrictions, disjointed regulatory enforcement and disproportionate impact that the current framework has on small businesses.
“The FAA’s strict enforcement of the requirement that repair stations obtain and maintain [repair data], while failing to enforce [Title] 14 [Code of Federal Regulations] §21.50(b) and its predecessor requirements, traps businesses in a regulatory Catch-22 and has a number of negative and anticompetitive impacts.” ARSA said in its comments. “By refusing to create and then limiting access to maintenance data, DAHs are able to maintain and enhance a government-induced monopoly.”
According to an ARSA-conducted survey cited in its comments, the availability of maintenance data is perceived as one of the largest threats to MROs. The association set forth several examples to illustrate the prevalence of DAH repair restrictions, including one repair company that says repair-manual pricing “has risen from $5,000 to $51,000 in less than 10 years.” Another respondent complains that manual pricing “increased by 38% [in] each of the last 2 years.”
While the association says it does not have data to directly prove the negative impact the anticompetitive practices have on consumers, it argues that “because costs of doing business are passed along down the supply chain, it is possible that airline ticket prices have increased [due to] increased costs incurred by aviation maintenance providers . . . .” The association also cautions against limiting the term “consumer” only to members of the traveling public, pointing out that in some cases, aircraft owners encounter restrictions that keep them from maintaining their own engines.
ARSA’s efforts to make maintenance data available to aviation repair stations has spanned decades. A more recent campaign encouraged repair stations to petition the FAA for exemption from the §145.109(d) mandate that requires repair stations to maintain “current and accessible” data. Several members have answered the call—at least three petitions are awaiting the FAA’s decision. ARSA says it will use the filings to make the broader public policy case to either “remov[e] the §145.109(d) repair data mandate, or to compel the agency to enforce the requirement that DAHs make the data reasonably available.”
While most of its advocacy efforts have targeted the FAA or manufacturers, this is not the first time ARSA has submitted its grievance to another arm of the federal government. Last year, ARSA called on the Small Business Administration (SBA) National Ombudsman Office to look into inequalities imposed on small repair stations, arguing that the double standard unfairly targets the small businesses that make up the majority of the repair station community. And since the volume of comments the ombudsman receives on any given issue influences its decision to include the matter in its annual report to Congress, the association encouraged its members to do the same.
ARSA’s intention is to keep the issue top of mind by whatever means necessary. “Despite decades of advocacy efforts, the FAA has not taken any discernible steps to resolve the issue,” says Executive Vice President Christian Klein. “The trade association will continue to raise awareness of the issue, and FAA inaction, through every available channel.”
The FTC is a bipartisan federal agency charged with protecting consumers and promoting competition. Its July 16 workshop is free and open to the public. A live webcast is available to those not able to attend in person.
The deadline to submit comment in advance of the workshop has passed; stakeholders can still provide feedback to the regulatory docket through Sept. 16.