Independence Day and the Importance of Systems Safety

Five years ago, FAA Deputy Director John Hickey spoke to ASA about the importance of systems safety.  He explained how we can achieve success in a system, and how the system can maintain success even in the face of change.  In the context of a safety management system, the system allows the personnel to change, without undermining the safety expectations of the system.

The elements of systems safety have come under fire, recently.

For example, you can see articles written about the need for the FAA to eliminate the designee program.  Articles suggest that it reflects an abdication of the FAA’s safety duties; but I have seen one excellent article explaining why the program works, and what we need to do in the future.

The designee program has been moving to a more systems-oriented focus for decades, now, with a emphasis on organizational designees (ODA).

The core of systems safety is creating systems that manage compliance and manage the right processes.  When those processes are incorrect, though, the result can be undesired.  Just as aviation has always sought to gather data and improve its systems, now is a time to continue to improve our systems.

ASA has always been focused on systems safety, with our emphasis on quality assurance systems implemented in accordance with ASA-100 and audited under the ASAAP program.  Distributor accreditation is a systems-based program that was audited by the FAA and found to improve safety in the industry.  Although the accreditation system is voluntary, it has become incredibly successful in the aviation industry because it is so effective in protecting the aircraft-parts-related safety of the aviation community.

On the fourth of July, American celebrates its Declaration of Independence, which was approved on July 4, 1776; but Americans point to a later document, the U.S. Constitution, as the backbone of the nation.  The U.S. Constitution became effective on July 4, 1789 – 230 years ago.  It established the system of America’s government.  Some people have posited that it might be more convenient to work outside of the Constitutional system, but that Constitutional system has worked well for America for quite a long time.  And when it has been found wanting, America has amended the Constitution rather than throwing it away.

As we approach the July 4th celebration of American independence, take a moment to think about how we can continue to improve aviation systems safety.

ASA will be examining safety systems as they apply to aircraft parts distribution at the Annual Conference in Montreal on July 14-16.

Relevant Language from EASA’s Supplier Control Mechanisms

In an earlier post, we reported on EASA’s formal endorsement of FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 00-56 and the ASA-100 quality standard (endorsing them as an acceptable mechanism for ensuring that a supplier’s quality assurance system meets EASA expectations).

These two documents form an important part of EASA’s recent publication on supplier control mechanisms.

Some of the readers have asked me to provide the relevant language of EASA’s endorsement; they’ve noted that the entire Decision includes six annexes in addition to the actual EASA decision (and is thus too long to navigate).   In response to these inquiries, I have put together a short (five page) set of excerpts that show the supplier control implementation in the recently-published EASA AMCs and GMs.

You can find a copy of the excerpts here, at this link: ED Decision 2019-009-R – Supplier Control Mechanisms Added to European Law (excerpts).

In summary:

  • EASA AMC1 145.A.42(b)(i) provides that the procedures for the acceptance of components, standard parts and materials should include supplier evaluation procedures;
  • EASA GM2 145.A.42(b)(i) explains what a supplier is, in order to assess who must be controlled (find out more in our earlier article on supplier definition);
  • EASA GM3 145.A.42(b)(i) describes the elements that should be considered when evaluating a supplier’s quality system, and it explains that suppliers accredited to ASA-100 an AC 00-56 are acceptable;


Europe Formally Recognizes AC 00-56 and ASA-100

The European Union has formally recognized FAA AC 00-56 and ASA-100 as acceptable methods for supplier evaluation.

Some of you will remember that ASA was working with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to establish protocols for aircraft parts suppliers.  EASA examined various proposals for regulating distributors, and ultimately concluded that the FAA’s Voluntary Industry Distributor Accreditation Program was an appropriate model upon which to rely.  EASA sought comments on the proposal and ultimately issued a recommendation to the European Commission.

The first part of that recommendation was acted upon in August when the European Commission issued a new rule that required repair stations (EASA 145 organization) to

“establish procedures for the acceptance of components, standard parts and materials for installation to ensure that components, standard parts and materials are in satisfactory condition and meet the applicable requirements”  EASA 145.A.42(b)(i).

The second part of that recommendation has been implemented in ED Decision 2019/009/R.  This Decision provided guidance on what it means to establish the above procedures.  First, the guidance clarifies that “[f]or the acceptance of components, standard parts and materials from suppliers, the [] procedures should include supplier evaluation procedures.” AMC1 145.A.42(b)(i) Components, section (b).   At first glance, this appears to impose a huge new obligation on repair stations to evaluate suppliers.  But EASA has offered an easy way to meet this evaluation obligation, by relying on the existing infrastructure for supplier evaluation.

GM3 145.A.42(b)(i) Components explains how to evaluate suppliers.  It explains that a suppliers’ quality system should have certain elements.  It also permits reliance on suppliers known (through external auditing) to meet four standards that are considered acceptable: AC 00-56, ASA-100, AS/EN9120 and EASO 2012.  This means that a 145 organization can rely on a supplier that was audited to such a standard, and does not have to perform its own evaluation.  The basis for endorsing each of these standards was an analysis of each standard by EASA that found that each was in compliance with the list of elements published in this GM.

I was part of the EASA rulemaking team that performed the evaluations, so I know that EASA put a lot of effort into validating that the Voluntary Industry Distributor Accreditation Program was acceptable for use in Europe.  The entire industry of accredited distributors should be proud of this recognition, because it is the result of 25 years of commitment to safety and quality.

This is great news for the community of accredited distributors.  This verifies that aircraft parts installers who rely on AC 00-56 as an element of their supplier selection process are doing the right thing.  It also confirms that the global norms for supplier evaluation are working to enhance safety.


Look for tomorrow’s article on how broad is the European definition of “supplier.”

Government-Sourced Parts: Why Do We Care?

We are periodically asked about parts that have been sourced from “government” aircraft.  The concern is raised because standard industry documentation frequently recommend certifications about government sourcing (or lack thereof).  This can cause confusion, sometimes, about what represents a government source and what does not.

The root cause for this disclosure is a recognition that most aircraft are maintained to common civil standards in accordance with ICAO standards, but that the ICAO civil aircraft maintenance standards do not apply to public use aircraft.  E.g. Maintaining Public AircraftFAA Advisory Circular 91.91 § 1.3 (Oct. 19, 2016) (explaining that the FAA has no statutory authority to regulate public aircraft, and the government operator therefore remains responsible for ensuring adequacy of maintenance).

Consequently, used aircraft parts that have been removed from public aircraft might not have been maintained according to the standards that are commonly used for civil aviation maintenance.


What is a Public Aircraft?


U.S. law defines a public aircraft as an aircraft used exclusively for United States Government purposes, or state government purposes.  The definition includes any aircraft exclusively leased by the government of a state or U.S. territory for at least 90 continuous days and an aircraft owned or operated by the armed forces or chartered to provide transportation or other commercial air service to the armed forces.  49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(41).  The reason that the aircraft parts community cares about public aircraft is because public aircraft do not need to be maintained to the same standards as civil aircraft.


What Has the FAA Recommended About Parts from Public Aircraft?


Because parts from public aircraft may not have been maintained to normal civil standards, the FAA has expressed concerns over them.  It is not illegal to use them, but the FAA wants their nature disclosed, so that an installer can ensure airworthiness at the time of installation (or an overhauler can ensure airworthiness at the time of overhaul).

The FAA has recommended that where a part was obtained from a non-certificated aircraft, including a public aircraft, then that fact should be so-identified by some type of documentation. Eligibility, Quality, and Identification of Aeronautical Replacement Parts, FAA Advisory Circular 20-62E, chg 1, § 10(c)(1) (Sept. 14, 2018).


Industry Standards for Parts from Public Use Aircraft


The FAA’s recommendation in AC 20-62E has been implemented through certain industry standards – most notably ASA-100.  ASA-100 recommends that the seller provide a statement disclosing whether the aircraft parts were “previously installed in a public aircraft, such as a government use aircraft or a military aircraft.”  Aviation Suppliers Association Quality System Standard, ASA-100 § 10(b)(2) (rev. 4.0).

In similar language, ATA Specification 106 recommends that used aircraft parts obtained from non-certificated aircraft be disclosed , unless the part is already accompanied by an 8130-3 that was completed as an approval for return to service.  The guidance provides examples of the sort of sources that should be disclosed, including “public use, non-U.S., and military surplus aircraft.


Mitigating Factor


A mitigating factor in all of this is that today, many public aircraft in the United States are operated and maintained as if they civil aircraft.  Through the 1980s, the United States has begun to recognize that they were not receiving adequate value on aircraft and aircraft parts that were sold at auction.  One reason was the significant expense associated with verifying airworthiness on such aircraft before they could be used for civil purposes. To remedy this, the U.S> government started maintaining its aircraft consistent with FAA (civil aviation) standards.

This eliminates the differences that caused the industry to be cautious about such public-aircraft-sourced parts.  It makes the affected public-use aircraft parts technically equivalent to comparable parts used in civil aviation.

Despite this, under current federal standards, a federal agency that sells or transfers aircraft parts to a non-federal party must provide the buyer with the following statement:

Warning to purchasers/recipients. The aircraft parts you are purchasing or receiving in an exchange may not be in compliance with applicable Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. You are solely responsible for bringing the aircraft into compliance with 14 CFR Chapter I, or other applicable standards, by obtaining all necessary FAA inspections or modifications..”

41 C.F.R. § 102-33.360(a)(2).

In addition, the purchaser must sign the a lengthy warning and disclaimer statement at the time of sale – this statement is supposed to be retained by the government seller.  Id.  These steps are meant to ensure that the U.S. government has adequately warned the buyer of the potential for non-compliance.


“Government Aircraft”


People in the industry often use the term “government aircraft.”  They come by this term honestly – the Office of Management and Budget publication OMB Circular No. A-126 (Improving the Management and Use of Government Aircraft) (May 22, 1992) uses the term “Government Aircraft” to mean the federal government’s public aircraft.  OMB Circular No. A-126. at 5(a).

The term “public aircraft,” alone, is well-understood.  But the use of the shorthand term “government aircraft” as a proxy for the concept of public aircraft has led a number of people to ask me whether the term “government aircraft” applies to airlines that are government owned. This is an obvious point of confusion.

Typically, in order for the air carrier to hold itself out to the public and offer carriage, it must be certificated under the home nation’s civil aviation rules.  This means that the air carrier’s aircraft are not (typically) flown as public aircraft. Thus, the mere fact that the air carrier is owned by the government does not imply an airworthiness question requiring a specific disclosure.

Obviously there are potential exceptions, such as where an airline wet-leases an aircraft (on an exclusive basis) to the government (this may be a public operation).



Keeping Fasteners Safe

Standard parts – particularly fasteners – continue to be a topic that is being discussed by regulators on both sides of the Atlantic.  We’ve had private conversations with both FAA and EASA executives on this issue.

The Issue

In 2013, EASA published a Safety Information Bulletin (SIB) entitled “Defective Standard Hardware – MS21042, NAS1291 and LN9338 Self-Locking Nuts, and NAS626 Bolts.”  This European SIB highlighted defects in certain self-locking nuts, and certain bolts.  In each case, the fasteners were standard parts.  EASA recommended that those who use these fasteners should visually inspect them for surface irregularities, such as gouges or cracks, before use.  EASA also recommended testing 1% of each lot received as a means of identifying non-conformities.

In 2014, the FAA published a follow-on document (Standard Hardware, AN, MS and NAS Fasteners, FAA SAIB HQ-14-16 (April 28, 2014)) that expanded on the EASA SIB.  Further investigation had shown that the non-conformities were attributed to hydrogen embrittlement and other other latent manufacturing defects.  Although this information was not published, industry rumor suggested that the hydrogen embrittlement was the product of inadequate heat treating.

The FAA has described the defects in these fasteners as “emblematic of potential flaws in other standard hardware.”  In conversations with both FAA and EASA executives on this issue, the root cause opinions appear to be uniform – when many military specification standards were retired by the U.S military, they were then republished by civil standards organizations for continued use in civil aircraft (e.g. AIA publishes the National Aerospace Standards).  After that time, the Department of Defense no longer provided oversight to these standards.  The civil standards organizations do not certify, monitor compliance or perform surveillance of parts produced to these standards (nor of their manufacturers). The responsibility for compliance with these standards and specifications lies with their respective manufacturers – and nearly all of the time, these manufacturers are doing the right thing – they are ensuring that their standard parts meet the requirements of the applicable standards.  But events have shown that a tiny sliver of bad actors can cause unwanted problems, and some people in the government feel that this lack of oversight has left an opportunity for improper manufacturing.

How can we address this lack of oversight economically?  By considering other forms of oversight and assurance.

There is a solution.

Many fastener distributors are accredited to the ASA-100 standard.  The ASA-100 standard includes a requirement that fastener distributors perform visual inspection on fasteners, and maintain batch/lot segregation of fasteners.  This requirement establishes a second set of eyes to help ensure that fasteners are not subject to obvious flaws.

Thus, buying standard parts from ASA-100 accredited distributors helps to ensure the integrity of the fasteners that you are receiving.

The FAA and EASA are both continuing to look at this issue.

We recently met with EASA and proposed that their regulatory structure already is developing a framework for embracing a solution.  EASA published Opinion 2013-12 which included a recommendation for the updating of EASA 145.A.42.  The new language would include enhanced requirements for acceptance of components:

The organisation shall establish procedures for the acceptance of components, standard parts and materials for installation to ensure that components, standard parts and materials are in satisfactory condition and meet the applicable requirements of point (a).

In the proposed GM3 145.A.42(b)(1) that would accompany this regulatory change, Part 145 organizations would be permitted to rely on “other-party” surveillance of suppliers.  This would include reliance on the surveillance performed under the AC 00-56 program and under the ASA-100 program.  The proposed GM is published in the EASA Comment Response Document (CRD).

In light of the fact that ASA-100 already includes fastener surveillance, EASA could use this upcoming promulgation as a tool to better enhance standard fastener oversight by endorsing fastener surveillance as a required element for inclusion in the GM.  By using the distribution community as a second set of eyes, EASA and the FAA would have an inexpensive mechanism for helping to catch problems in cases where fasteners are not properly produced to the expected standards.

Distributor accreditation has been successful in addressing unapproved parts issues, by creating a knowledgeable group with appropriate quality management systems that are designed to identify those sorts of problems.  This model has already been successfully expanded to fastener issues within the ASA-100 community.  This model can also be further expanded to make use of the entire distributor accreditation community as a second set of eyes, watching for fastener issues.

EASA Takes Another Step Toward Formal Recognition of Accreditation

Europe has taken the next step towards formal recognition of the distributor accreditation program.

On December 10th, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued its Comment Response Document (CRD) for “Control of suppliers of components and materials used in maintenance.”  This CRD contains the comments received on the Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) for the Supplier Control rule.

This changes would require EASA 145 organizations to have a method for assuring the satisfactory condition of the aircraft parts that they receive, and would recommend receiving inspection and supplier control as methods to achieve that end.  Related guidance explains that reliance on accredited distributors (explicitly including ASA-100 accredited distributors) would be a satisfactory way to meet the supplier control element.  A complete discussion of the proposal can be found in an earlier blog post on the NPA.

This is not yet law in Europe.  The next step will be for the European Commission to issue an amendment that features the regulatory changes, and then EASA would issue a Decision that adopts the changes to the advisory/guidance materials.

ASA Continues to Work with EASA on Distributor Issues

In November, ASA will meet again with EASA to discuss the proposed Supplier Control rule for Part 145 maintenance organizations.

Under the proposed rule, Part 145 maintenance organizations would be required to take steps to ensure the airworthiness of the parts that they receive.  This is already a part of the EASA guidance, and is merely being made more explicit in the rules.

The real change under the proposed rule is expanded guidance about methods for effective quality assurance.  The guidance recommendations are focused on two elements that should come as no surprise to anyone in the aviation parts industry: (1) effective receiving inspection, and (2) robust supplier control.

The proposed rule recognizes that the industry has developed a very effective mechanism for aftermarket supplier control, and it endorses this effective mechanism.  It explains that although a Part 145 maintenance organization can perform its own supplier auditing, reliance on certain industry-accepted third party auditing mechanisms has become standard in the industry.  Based on nearly twenty years of success, the proposed rule recognizes that AC 00-56, and the standards that it endorses, represents a sound method for ensuring that effective quality controls are exercised in the aircraft parts distribution chain.

In addition to recognizing reliance on AC 00-56 as an effective tool to support supplier quality assurance, the proposed guidance also lays out the elements of an effective distributor quality system (the proposed rule includes an analysis in the appendices to show that ASA-100 already meets the new European requirements).

This European effort helps to validate the notion that companies that voluntarily adopted AC 00-56 (and ASA-100) compliant systems were doing the right thing.

When ASA meets with EASA in early November, we will be discussing the industry comments on the proposed rule, and how best to adopt those comments into the final rule.  Any ASA members who has comments on the proposed rule or the related guidance should make sure to get them to ASA before the end of October.

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