FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have been discussing new ways to document and transfer aircraft articles across international borders. This ends up affecting the rest of the world, because it sets standards for how both of those authorities will operate that they then incorporate into their other international relationships.
Some issues have arisen in the industry that find their roots in the FAA-EASA Maintenance Annex Guidance (MAG). This MAG document is meant to reflect the working procedures for shared maintenance oversight between FAA and EASA. In theory, it should not add any new legal requirements – those are supposed to already exist in the regulations. But in practice, the MAG has recently evolved into a document that is setting new legal standards that do not exist in the regulations of either FAA or EASA. Because inspectors for the two authorities are requiring compliance to the MAG, it is important to review it and understand what new standards are included in that document.
The MAG changes are motivated in part by a recent change in US law that has permitted US production approval holders (PAHs) to issue their own 8130-3 tags for their articles. This is found at 14 C.F.R. 21.137(o). Those who take advantage of this option would no longer need to rely on the legal fiction of designees. This was meant to ease the process of creating 8130-3 tags, which have recently been viewed by the FAA as an administrative matter that merely documents a finding of airworthiness that is made whether the tag is created or not. This change also helps to harmonize with EASA, which has permitted European manufacturers to issue EASA Form One since EASA’s inception.
Although this new privilege should permit more manufacturers to issue 8130- 3 tags, thus creating a wider pool of articles documented with 8130-3 tags, the fact remains that many existing aircraft articles do not bear EASA Form One or 8130-3 tags. Real-world implementation hurdles have mean that manufacturers needed some time before they could start issuing the tags. In addition, there is a huge quantity of existing articles in distributors’, air carriers’, and repair stations’ inventories. Many of those existing articles do not bear EASA Form One or 8130-3 tags.
The industry has struggled for the last twenty years to obtain these documents, or in the alternative to find ways to receive aircraft articles into inventory without these magic documents. In many cases, the easiest path has been to find a way to determine airworthiness without the Form One or 8130-3 documentation – this is a path that remains legal under United States law because we have no general documentation requirements for articles under the FAA regulations.
Historically, repair stations with EASA 145 credentials have taken advantage of the EASA regulatory clause that permits articles to enter the repair station’s systems when they are unserviceable (EASA 145.A.42(a)(2)). The definition of unserviceable includes articles with inadequate documentation (M.A. 504(a)(3)):
M.A.504 Control of unserviceable components
(a) A component shall be considered unserviceable in any one of the following circumstances:
3. absence of the necessary information to determine the airworthiness status or eligibility for installation;
These articles are not required to have any specific documentation and could enter a repair station undocumented. The repair station would then perform an analysis / inspection of the article to confirm its airworthiness (such as an inspection to a serviceable condition – an inspection is defined as a species of maintenance under both the EASA system and the FAA system). Repair stations could therefore receive new articles without a Form One or an 8130-3, so long as the repair station independently evaluated airworthiness of the article.
The MAG appears to put an end to this practice by distinguishing new parts and specifically requiring them to have specific documentation even when received under EASA 145.A.42(a)(2) – thus closing the industry’s normal safety valve for receipt of articles that typically do not bear 8130-3 tags.
FAA Solution Rejected By EASA
The FAA was open to the idea of a grandfather clause for existing inventory. Such a grandfather clause would have extended to all articles produced before October 1, 2016 (the date by which the FAA believes many US PAHs will issue their own 8130-3 tags). They were also open to the idea that a distributor could certify that the article existed before October 1, 2016 on the grounds that it existed in the distributor’s inventory before October 1, 2016 (the installer would still need to make a determination of airworthiness prior to installation – the distributor’s certification would merely have indicated eligibility for treatment under the grandfather clause).
Remember that distributors typically pass along documents, packaging and markings that can help the installer make his or her own determination of airworthiness. So the sole purpose of the distributor’s certification would have been to show that the article existed before October 1, 2016 and was thus eligible for treatment under the grandfather clause. Nothing more.
This grandfather clause has been rejected by EASA.
Unfortunately, EASA did not agree with the FAA’s interpretation of a grandfather clause. In the FAA-EASA-Industry meeting that took place on June 17, the EASA senior representative disagreed, and insisted that the grandfather clause could only extend to parts in a repair station’s inventory by October 1, 2016. This made the grandfather clause meaningless, because articles already in inventory no longer need to be tested under the EASA 145.A.42 receiving standard. More importantly, it meant that existing inventory in distributor’s warehouses – inventory that in some cases was produced before EASA existed – could be precluded from entering EASA 145 repair stations in the US and in Europe. Over a thousand US repair stations bear EASA 145 credentials, and this includes nearly all of the major MROs handling commercial transport category aircraft, so this is a very serious issue.
Disappointingly, the EASA representative admitted that he knows that European repair stations accept undocumented parts, but expressed that he could not recognize those transactions because they did not fit within the EASA ideal. He suggested that airlines and MROs could bypass distributors and buy direct from manufacturers. This ignores a host of real-world issues, including the fact that many necessary articles are not in active production and cannot be obtained from anywhere unless they are purchased from existing distribution inventories. Expecting manufacturers to instantly be able to produce each part that they have ever produced in the past ‘on -demand’ in simply unrealistic.
ASA and FAA Working Toward a Solution
If taken at its face value (including the EASA interpretation), the MAG could render a huge chunk of existing inventory valueless.
We have been working with the FAA to stave off this possibility. The FAA is taking a realistic approach to this issue. The FAA realizes that this has both financial implications (rendering existing inventory valueless) and safety implications (certain necessary parts would become unavailable, making aircraft maintenance impossible). Because the FAA’s primary focus is on aviation safety, they are acting to ensure that demonstrably airworthy articles can be documented appropriately, so that paperwork does not get in the way of safety.
The solutions are still being discussed and developed, but industry should expect to see changes in the way that 8130-3 tags are issued for aircraft parts. This change needs to happen very quickly in order to make sure that good inventory is not rejected because it has the wrong paperwork.