Dates on 8130-3 Tags

I’ve heard a number of complaints from people about rejected 8130-3 tags, where the sole reason for rejection is the date format.

Dates can be tricky when they are not clear.  For example, 10/12/2012 is likely to be read as October 12, 2012 by the majority US citizens, but 10/12/2012 is likely to be read as 10 December 2012 by the majority EU citizens.  This is a very real concern, because the 8130-3 tag started its life as an export tag, and export remains an import use of the tag.  So for certain dates, it is especially important that the date format eliminate ambiguities both in the US and abroad.

Unfortunately, while the US government has attempted to eliminate ambiguities, they have also changed formats over the years which has tended to introduce opportunities for confusion within the industry.

A Fastball History of the 8130-3 Date Requirements

In the original version of the current airworthiness approval instructions, the FAA did not include a format for the date.  The date could be either the date on which the form was signed OR the date of the conformity.  That original guidance explicitly stated that the form could not be used for approval for return to service.  FAA Order 8130.21 (June 21, 1991).

The “A” revision to the guidance added approval for return to service as an authorized function for the tag, but failed to explicitly provide a date format.  That revision did provide a sample, though, and in the sample it was clear that the FAA was using month/day/year format.  Compare FAA Order 8130.21A, para. 11(r,w) (January 3, 1994) with FAA Order 8130.21A, App’x 1 (January 3, 1994).  It also clarified that the date was the date of the signature.  Id. at para. 11(r,w).

By the “C” revision to the guidance, the FAA had finally offered explicit guidance stating that the date should be entered in the month/day/year format.  FAA Order 8130.21A, para. 14(r,w) (June 1, 2001).  The sample found in the appendix uses the date “8/1/00”.  Id. at App’x 2 (note that this was post Y2K guidance, but it nonetheless used a two-digit date format; the samples in the 2004 “D” revision would move to a four-digit format for the year).

The “D” revision to the guidance retained the same month/day/year format but specified that the month should be indicated by its three letter designator (e.g. JAN, FEB, MAR, etc.), rather than a number.  FAA Order 8130.21D, para. 14(r,w) (September 28, 2004).  As of 2004, the order in which the components were written should have no longer mattered, because you cannot confuse the day with the month because the month is now represented by letters instead of a number.

Revision “E” changed the guidance by separating the export, domestic, and approval for return to service guidance into three separate chapters; but there was no substantial change to the date formatting.  FAA Order 8130.21E (September 29, 2006).

In the “F” revision to the guidance, the FAA changed the guidance by stating that the date should be entered in the month day year format.  E.g. FAA Order 8130.21F, para. 3-5(s) (May 30, 2008).  Look!  No slashes!  The samples each use a slashless format (like Oct 23 2007).  But a more substantial (though less noticeable) change was the applied to the guidance for approval for return to service (right-side signatures).  Previous guidance had always required the date to reflect the date of the signature (which may have been required to coincide with other tasks).  This revision directed those using the 8130-3 as an approval for return to service (under 14 C.F.R. 43.9) to use the date on which the original work was completed.  Id.  It explained that this date could be different than the date on which the 8130-3 tag was printed (and thus different from the date on which it was signed).  Id.

The “G” revision to the guidance eased up on the draconian banning of slashes, and explained that “[t]he use or omission of slashes, hyphens, or spaces in the date does not matter.”  E.g. FAA Order 8130.21G, para. 3-5(s) (October 26, 2009).  But it left the date instructions otherwise unchanged.

The Change-Up

After 22 years, the “H” revision threw us a curveball.  It changed the date format to dd/mm/yyyy [yes, the slashes are back!].  FAA Order 8130.21H, para. 1-5(a)(5) (August 1, 2013); e.g. id. at para. 3-6(r).  The guidance directs that “[t]he date must be in the following format: two-digit day, first three letters of the month, and four-digit year, for example, 03 Feb 2008.”  [well, at last the slashes are an option, again]  But this once again raises the question, why do we need to have the date in a particular order if the three components of the date are distinct, and cannot be confused?

Of course, the change is not perfectly uniform.  Certain paragraphs still advise the public to use the “month day year” format for certain records.  E.g. FAA Order 8130.21H, para. 2-7(c)(2) (August 1, 2013).

Another interesting detail of the “H” revision is that the dates for all of the sample 8130-3 tags predate the “H” revision (the latest of these samples is from 2011 but most are from 2005-2008).  All of the samples use the new date format (‘day month year’) despite the fact that all of them bear dates that would have required them to conform to earlier guidance that mandated a ‘month day year’ format.  So in an effort to create samples that conformed to the new guidance, the FAA created samples that were on their face inappropriate because they would have failed to conform to the guidance that was in effect when each of these forms appear to have been created!

The Problem With Dates

So the problem that we run into is that receiving inspectors may reject 8130-3 tags that are otherwise correct because of date formatting.  Some of my readers will no doubt say “that is ridiculous – no one would really do that, would they?”  Yes, they would.  I have received emails from a number of trade association members who have encountered this phenomenon.

And the real problem arises when a receiving inspector rejects an older 8130-3 that was correctly created under a prior revision to the guidance, on the grounds that it does not conform to the current revision of the guidance (which was not effective when the 8130-3 tag was issued).  This is very frustrating because if the 8130-3 was correctly formatted at the time it was produced, it should pass through the system unmolested by subsequent guidance changes.

It is important for receiving inspectors to remember that FAA Order 8130.21 is an internal FAA Order, which means that it provides binding guidance to FAA employees and designees, but that it is not binding when applied to industry.  This means that it is useful guidance for repair stations that use the 8130-3 tag, but they are not required by law or regulation to follow that guidance.  Thus, a receiving inspector should not reject a repair station’s 8130-3 tag if the date is formatted incorrectly, but is otherwise unambiguous.

Designees are required to follow the then-current FAA guidance when they complete an 8130-3 tag.  This means that a tag completed by a designee before the effective date of Order 8130.21H should bear a date that complies with the old formatting rules – not the new formatting rules (the effective date was February 1, 2014); but it is possible that some designees may have complied early (the “H” revision was released six months early in order to facilitate implementation of the changes reflected by the revision).


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 Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.

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