Electronically Applied Signatures on 8130-3 Tags

Recently, some customers have been approaching distributors , asking them for evidence of “FAA approval” of their electronic signature systems.  Specifically, the customers have been saying that they are “unable to accept a computer generated signature on FAA Authorized Release Certificates” unless the customer is provided with copies of the documents by which the FAA had approved electronic signature system.  Although the FAA does approve certain types of electronic record systems, they do not currently need to approve systems for applying signatures to paper 8130-3 tags.

The United States published the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) in order to make sure that government agencies permitted and encouraged the use of electronic forms.  In the wake of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) developed guidance on electronic signatures.  The OMB guidance explains that the purpose of the GPEA was to “preclude agencies or courts from systematically treating electronic documents and signatures less favorably than their paper counterparts.” The OMB guidance goes on to explain:

“GPEA states that electronic records and their related electronic signatures are not to be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability merely because they are in electronic form. It also encourages Federal government use of a range of electronic signature alternatives.”

Against this backdrop, the FAA has issued a number of documents concerning electronic documents and signatures.

For records required to be kept by certain certificate holders, the FAA has created guidance on the record-keeping systems.  AC 120-78 explains how the FAA approved electronic manual systems and record-keeping systems for operators and repair stations.  But this guidance does not apply to the generation of 8130-3 tags, because Order 8130.21G provides more specific information for 8130-3 tags.

For the 8130-3 tag, there is a difference  between an electronically generated signature (something printed on a paper copy of the tag) and a digital signature (on an electronic representation of the data from a tag).  The OMB guidance directs agencies to use risk assessment techniques for identifying appropriate controls for controlling electronic transfer of documents.  Clearly, one of the reasons for the difference between electronic application of a signature to a paper 8130-3 and digitally transferred data sets (whose electronic systems are accepted by the FAA) is the fact that in the former, the 8130-3 tag remains in a paper state and the risk of fraud remains nearly identical to the risk associated with a paper form with a handwritten signature (advances in printing and imaging technology have made the two indistinguishable in many cases).

The FAA has guidance on the development of a mechanism for generating and transferring digital 8130-3 tags.  These “tags” are actually data sets meeting ATA Spec 2000 Chapter 16, and they reflect a different medium for storing and transferring airworthiness data (instead of paper).  The guidance for such systems is found in FAA Order 8130.21G chapter 5.  Although a number of companies have started investigating this mechanism, a number of factors have prevented it from catching-on broadly across the industry.  Thus, while the FAA has  mechanism for approving these digital 8130-3 tag systems, it has not yet been used by a substantial portion of the industry.  But this remains as an available option, and repair stations may wish to consider this as a reasonable mechanism for creating and storing 8130-3 tags.

For electronically generated signatures (printed on a paper copy of the tag) on 8130-3 tags, though, electronically applying a signature is permitted under Order 8130.21 and is considered something different than the FAA approval of a digital 8130-3 tag system with digital signatures.  Specifically, section 1-9(c) of the “G” revision and section 1-12(c) of the “H” revision (which become effective in February 2014) state “Automation and use of an electronic signature on FAA Form 8130-3 is allowed by all persons who issue the form.”  Thus, no one should not be looking for FAA approval for electronic application of signatures to 8130-3 tags, because the FAA does not need to issue such approval under current policy standards.

Got 8130-3 Questions?

For over 20 years we have been involved in the development of the 8130-3 and its instruction in Order 8130.21, as well as the harmonization of the form with EASA’s and TCCA’s corollaries; so if you have 8130-3 questions, then please feel free to call us!


About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Air Carrier Purchasing Conference, and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association. He also represents private clients drawn from the spectrum of the aviation industry.

One Response to Electronically Applied Signatures on 8130-3 Tags

  1. marpakatt says:

    The original post included a typo that was caught by Shelley Ewalt (good eye, Shelley!) and has been corrected.

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