Holy Grail: International Mutual Maintenance Acceptance

Today, distributors who obtain overhaul services for their rotable aircraft p[arts are well-aware of the value of the tag that accompanies the part.  Depending on the company’s business model, a distributor seeking overhaul services may ask for more than one certification on the Approval for Return To Service (ARTS) documentation.  For example, a common certification is a dual US-EU certification made on either an EASA Form 1 or an FAA Form 8130-3.  This allows the part to ultimately be installed in either a US-registered aircraft of an aircraft registered in one of the EU member nations.  For a distributor that does not yet know which customer will purchase the overhauled component, having multiple certifications approving the component overhaul expands the potential customer pool that might be able to purchase that component.

But as the number of countries potentially extending jurisdiction over maintenance grows, the number of certifications that one must consider becomes unwieldy.  This can be maddening for a distributor that enjoys a global business model.

The large number of jurisdictions that could exert jurisdiction over maintenance work has resulted in some repair stations experiencing commercial pressure to obtain multiple certificates, and to be prepared to sign-off on maintenance under the rules of multiple different jurisdictions.  One friend of mine has admitted that he is managing over 130 certificates in his maintenance facilities.

Typically, the way that the maintenance is performed doesn’t change from one jurisdiction to the next; what changes are the ancillary matters, like how the maintenance is documented, how employee training is documented, what matters must be communicated to the government that issued the certificate, etc.  Because the way that the maintenance is performed really doesn’t change from one jurisdiction to the next, if one jurisdiction can accept that the neighboring jurisdiction’s government oversight yields the same results as its neighbor, then there may be some room for the governments to extend to one another a mutual recognition of the maintenance performed in the other.

Many people will be familiar with existing examples of this sort of mutual recognition.  One of the longest-standing such relationships exists between the United States and Canada.  Under existing United States laws, maintenance performed by a Transport Canada Authorized Maintenance Organization (AMO) is accepted in the United States as if it had been performed by an FAA-certificated repair station.  See 14 C.F.R. 43.17.  The regulations also recognize certain work signed-off under an Aviation Maintenance Engineer (AME) license from Canada.  In each case, the Canadian does not need an FAA certificate – the US accepts the work done by the Canadian certificate holder because of the trust between the FAA and Transport Canada (trust that is verified and renewed through collaboration and mutual oversight at the government-level).  Canada’s regulations provide for a similar recognition of maintenance performd in the US by FAA certificate-holders.

Recently, the quadrilateral group of airworthiness authorities met in Brazil to discuss a future paradigm in which mutual recognition of maintenance might be possible.  The quadrilateral group is made up of:

  • Brazil (ANAC),
  • Canada (TCCA),
  • European Union (EASA), and
  • United States (FAA).

The essence of such mutual recognition of maintenance is close and careful coordination that allows the authorities to each conclude that the others are performing oversight which yields substantially the same results – that is, a finding that a repair station subject to FAA oversight will yield the same safety results as a repair station subject to EASA oversight.

During the Brazil meeting, industry representatives and the authorities discussed the implementation mechanisms for such a paradigm shift.  Industry would like to see the authorities adopt a multilateral focus.  As part of this, they would like to see the four authorities consider a multilateral agreement in which the four authorities agree to mutual recognition and common standards for maintenance among themselves.

The Multilateral Approach

One reason for this is multilateral approach is because variances in the way that maintenance is accepted could cause problems.  For example, imagine a scenario where where maintenance on a subcomponent X is performed in jurisdiction one.  The maintained subcomponent X is then exported to jurisdiction two, which has an agreement to accept the maintenance performed under the maintenance authority of jurisdiction one. A repair station located in jurisdiction two accepts the maintained subcomponent X and introduces it into component Y, during the course of an overhaul of component Y.  This is permitted under a mutual recognition agreement between jurisdiction one and jurisdiction two.  The problem arises when the component Y is then exported to jurisdiction three.  Under a maintenance mutual recognition agreement between jurisdiction two and three, the repair station in jurisdiction three can accept the work performed in jurisdiction two.  But if there is not yet a bilateral agreement between jurisdictions one and three, then the subcomponent overhaul work on subcomponent X may not be acceptable to jurisdiction three.

But imagine that there is also a bilateral maintenance mutual recognition agreement between jurisdiction two and jurisdiction three.  This still might not solve the problem; because if the documentation requirements differ or if small details differ, then the maintenance documentation/acceptance requirements of jurisdiction two may not be adequate for jurisdiction three.  In such a case, maintenance that would have been acceptable in jurisdiction three if it had come directly from jurisdiction one, becomes unacceptable merely because it went first to jurisdiction two under the “wrong” paperwork.

This causes a problem in smoothly accepting the subcomponent and component work in jurisdiction three.  This problem is less likely to arise if all four of the quadrilateral jurisdictions agree to the same standards for accepting maintenance in a multilateral agreement, instead of a series of six bilateral agreements.

The Bilateral Approach

The authorities on the other hand, have made it clear that they prefer to retain the multilateral coordination, but to act through bilateral agreements.  This means a total of six agreements among the four authorities:

 

Brazil (ANAC) Canada (TCCA)
| \ / |
| X |
| / \ |
European Union (EASA) United States (FAA)

 

One reason for the preference for the bilateral agreement approach is that this is the approach that has historically been used in aviation.

The authorities all agree that there is too much redundancy in maintenance oversight.  They are committed to making strides to reduce unnecessary reduncancy.  But today, they typically approach issues through bilateral relations, so they are not yet comfortable with taking a multilateral-agreement approach to maintenance acceptance.

This is not a task that will happen quickly.  The trust-building among authorities to permit reliance on one-another, alone, is a lengthy process.  But industry proposed a number of ways to faciliate progress, such as using a risk-based approach to allow staged maintenance acceptance.  Under such a scenario, lower-risk maintenance, like non-critical component maintenance, could be accepted first, and acceptance of maintenance work that incorporates a higher level of risk tolerance could be shared among the authorities at a later date, when the authorities become comfortable with sharing maintenance recognition of less-risk-sensitive maintenance.

Another idea that was floated as a model in which third parties could assess compliance to an international standard (a standard encompassing international maintenance norms).  A repair station that was certificated by its home government AND accredited to a third party standard based on international norms could be eligible to issue an internationally-recognized approval for return to service.  AC 00-56B and AS9100 are both examples of accreditation programs that can help to serve as effective models for the government bodies to consider.

The Continuing Efforts

These concepts are being developed by the quadrilateral group in partnership with industry representatives.  They recognize that with finite regulatory resources, the elimination of redundant oversight means more authority resources can be focused on maintaining and improving safety.

At the same time that the quadrilateral group is working with industry on this project, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is also investigating an international model for mutual recognition of maintenance.  If the ICAO effort is successful, then it could lead to international standards and recommended practices (SARPs) that might make it easier for governments to engage in mutual recognition of maintenance activities.

ASA will continue to work with the regulatory authorities to facilitate their trust-building exercises, to support their efforts to eliminate unnecessary redundancy, and to eliminate paperwork and administrative impediments that actually undermine safety by diverting focus away from the true aviation safety concerns.

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About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. Since 1992, he has represented aviation trade associations and businesses that include aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturers, distributors, and repair stations, as well as both commercial and private operators.

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