Brexit is Coming – How Will It Affect Aircraft Parts?

Brexit – the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union – will occur at 11 pm on Friday, March 29, 2019 (known as the withdrawal date).  In the past few weeks, we’ve met with representatives from the UK CAA, EASA and the FAA.  We’ve had a chance to talk about post-Brexit expectations.  It is clear that there are still a lot of unknowns.

One of the most significant unknowns revolves around the uncertainty in the future of UK-EU relations.  The UK CAA feels that there are generally two possible options.

The Two Options for Brexit

Option one is a Brexit that is reflected by an agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU. The EU and the UK negotiators have a draft of such an agreement, but early statements suggest that it may face some difficulty being ratified by the UK Parliament.

If there is a broad agreement between the two parties before the withdrawal date, then there is a reasonable chance that EU will permit UK CAA to participate in EASA.  EASA already has several non-EU participants that participate in EASA – like Norway and Switzerland – and the EU could permit the United Kingdom to join EASA as a non-EU member state.  In such a case, UK could continue to issue certificates recognized by EASA and certificate holders could continue to issue the EASA Form 1.  This option could make things simple, but as each day passes without a ratified high-level UK-EU agreement, the likelihood of this happening diminishes.

In addition, UK CAA has suggested that EASA may be unable to negotiate with UK CAA at any level under after the withdrawal date (because UK remains a part of the EU until then); so even if the plan is for UK CAA to participate in EASA, there may be a gap between the withdrawal date and UK CAA’s subsequent participation in EASA.

Option two arises if there is no deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union.  In such a case, UK CAA believes that EASA will not be permitted to negotiate with UK CAA on a formal basis. UK CAA would have to rebuild its own independent regulatory framework; it is already hiring additional qualified staff to be prepared to do this.

Under option two, and even under some versions of option one, there may be no aviation safety agreement between UK and EU.  If there is no agreement, then the European Commission published a Notice to Stakeholders detailing the consequences of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union’s aviation safety rules.  The Notice to Stakeholders paints a bleak picture of the near future between the UK CAA and EASA.

European Union Treatment of Parts Produced or Maintain in the UK

The European Notice to Stakeholders explains that when the UK leaves the European Union (EU), then from an EU perspective, this action will (1) invalidate all certificates issued by the UK CAA, and (2) invalidate all certificates issued by the UK CAA certificate holders.  Certificates will be invalid as of the withdrawal date, which is currently set for 11pm (UK time) on March 29, 2019.

The Notice explains that “[t]he products, parts and appliances concerned will no longer be considered as certified in accordance with Article 5 of the Basic Regulation.”  Article 5 of the Basic Regulation provides the legal foundation for the issue of an EASA Form 1 for a part or appliance.

This means that UK production approvals will become invalid, as far as the EU is concerned.  But this does not just apply to parts made after March 29.  It also applies to parts made before the withdrawal date.

Under European regulations, acceptable parts are required to bear appropriate documentation (such as EASA Form 1).  EASA Forms 1 issued before the withdrawal date under UK CAA authority become invalid as of the withdrawal date.  This means that parts in your inventory today – parts that are perfectly acceptable for installation on European-registered aircraft, today – will no longer be acceptable, after withdrawal, under EASA documentation rules because the UK CAA certificates will become invalid after the withdrawal.

After March 29, one may not install a part that is documented solely under a UK CAA EASA Form 1 into an EU-registered aircraft.  It would appear likely that this also would apply to aircraft registered in non-EU nations (like Norway) that have agreed to follow EASA regulations.  This would include:

  • New parts with UK CAA EASA Form 1
  • Maintained parts released to service on a UK CAA EASA Form 1

In a practical sense, if you have an EASA Form 1 for a new part, and it was issued in the UK, then the EU will no longer recognize it as a valid document after Brexit.  This means that parts in your inventory that bear EASA Form 1 may have to be segregated and identified as “UK” and “EU,” in order to ensure that if they are still in inventory after Brexit, then they can be directed to customers who are legally able to use those parts.

How does a distributor tell if its EASA Form 1 certificates are affected?  Check block 1 of the form.  This is the block with the name of the regulatory authority.  If it says “UK CAA” in block one, then the EU will no longer recognize it as a valid tag after the withdrawal date (unless there is an agreement that changes the circumstances).  As an example, here is a link to a form issued under the legal authority granted by France’s DGAC; and here is a link to an overhaul tag issued under the legal authority granted by the UK CAA.

Some people might wonder about dual-certificated parts from the UK.  About 200 repair station in the UK have FAA Part 145 certifications, and they historically have been released to service, following maintenance, on a UK CAA EASA Form 1 that also indicates compliance with FAA Part 145 regulations.  The EU has a bilateral agreement with the United States … does this permit acceptance of the work because it was performed under US FAA standards (too)?  The answer is “no.”  The EU only accepts maintenance from the United States’ system when it also approved under the EASA 145 standards.  Because UK’s EASA 145 certificates (and all other certificates issued by the repair stations) will become invalid upon withdrawal, a dual US-UK approval will not be acceptable for introduction into the EASA system.

Possible UK Solutions

EASA has a solution.  But it may be a costly and unwieldy solution.

EASA has proposed to issue EASA certificates to businesses in the UK as “third-country.”  In fact, it started accepting applications on October 2.  “Third country” treatment means that the UK certificate holders get treated like any-old foreigners.  They need to pay as if they were foreign applicants.  They need to pay for all of the EASA-time spent in approval and oversight.

By way of comparison, the EU has a working arrangement agreement with Uzbekistan.  It is currently scheduled to have no agreement with the UK.  So the Uzbekistan CAA is scheduled to have a closer relationship with EASA than the UK CAA will have.  This doesn’t mean that the years of trust between EASA and UK CAA disappear.  In the interim between now and March 29 (while UK CAA is still a member of EASA), EASA will be relying on UK CAA to support audits of UK aviation businesses that apply for EASA certificates as third country applicants.

EASA issues a number of foreign certificates, but the two most important for aircraft parts distribution are likely to be production organization approvals and maintenance organization approvals.  Both are potentially available to UK businesses.  An EASA third-country production organization approval would permit a UK manufacturer to produce parts and issue an acceptable EASA Form 1 even after the withdrawal date.  An EASA maintenance organization approval would permit a UK repair station to maintain articles and issue an acceptable EASA Form 1 even after the withdrawal date.

The timing of third-country certificates appears to be uncertain.  It would make the most sense for EASA to issue the certificate on or before March 29 in order to allow seamless operations in support of aviation safety.  The earlier that   EASA is able to issue the certificate before March 29. the better for industry planning (including safety contingency planning).  But it is also possible that the European Union will not permit EASA to issue third-country certificates to businesses in the UK until after the withdrawal date (a lergal justification advanced for this delay is that UK is not a third country until the withdrawal date).

When a distributor looks at an EASA Form 1 certificate issued by a UK-based entity, if block 1 of the form says “EASA” then this is an indication that the relevant certificate was issued by EASA and not by the UK CAA.  If it says “EASA” in block one of the Form 1, then the EU should recognize it as a valid (“third country”) tag after the withdrawal date.

What happens to parts that were maintained or produced in the UK before withdrawal date, by a company that obtains a replacement EASA third country certification?  This would appear to establish a continuity of EASA approval; but the actual legal treatment of the certification is currently unknown.  It is equally possible that EASA could invalidate EVERYTHING with UK CAA in block one (for ease of determination) or it could decide to accept parts from UK certificate holders who subsequently obtain comparable EASA foreign approvals (causing potential complication in cases where there was a hiatus between the withdrawal date and the date on which the EASA foreign approval was issued).

US Acceptance of UK Maintenance and Production

The United States and the United Kingdom have pledged to work things out.  It is likely that there will be some difficulties at first (there always are), but both authorities seem optimistic about their desire to find a way to support safety and keep aviation flying.  They are actively negotiating a new bilateral agreement, with the understanding that they will be ready to use it if the UK CAA is unable to rely on EASA as their agent (and if the EU permits UK CAA to participate in EASA, then some of the following details will likely change).

An important element of the US-UK negotiations is the plan concerning UK-based repair stations.  As previously mentioned, there are about 200 repair stations in the UK that bear FAA credentials as well.  The plan appears to be

  1. Identify the repair stations whose FAA credentials will expire in the first six months after the withdrawal date;
  2. Renew the FAA credentials of those soon-expiring repair stations early, before the withdrawal date, so they can be renewed before March 29 under the EASA provisions;
  3. This early renewal of expiring repair station certificates in the UK allows the FAA to have a cushion of time to work-out the operating procedures with UK CAA without any emergencies forcing rash decisions;
  4. After the withdrawal date, FAA repair stations in the UK will be permitted to issue dual release 8130-3 tags under FAA and UK CAA authority.

Yes, you read that last bit correctly.  Repair stations in the UK would be permitted to issue 8130-3 tags as approval for return to service documents.  This unusual move is permitted, because FAA removed the geographic limitations on 8130-3 tags about a decade ago.  The UK repair stations in question hold FAA Part 145 certificates and are permitted to approve for return to service in accordance with 14 C.F.R. 43.9.  UK CAA is in favor of this solution because the 8130-3 tag is well-recognized internationally.

Other than these details, it is likely that much of the UK-US bilateral will resemble the US-EASA bilateral in order to minimize the differences and mitigate the change management issues associated with Brexit.

Conclusion

It is possible that the EU and the UK will enter into an agreement that permits UK CAA to remain a part of EASA.  It is also possible that Brexit could be reversed.  But, absent some other agreement, the EU will no longer accept UK-based EASA Form 1 for new parts, even if the Form was issued while the UK was still part of the EU, after the withdrawal date.

Distributors need to be prepared by:

  1. Assessing their inventory for susceptibility to Brexit issues based on UK CAA production and/or maintenance, and potentially segregating inventory in a way that eases identification;
    • Segregation could be physical or virtual, e.g. inventory could be managed through software;
    • Remember that we might not know who is willing to accept EASA Form 1 from the UK CAA until very close to the withdrawal date;
  2. Communicating with customers to understand their post-Brexit expectations;
  3. Establishing procedures for proper handling of UK CAA-tagged articles to ensure that they do not go to customers who cannot accept such articles;
  4. Training their personnel on how Brexit impacts the business and the customers;
  5. Communicating with UK-based partners to assess how they plan to deal with the changes.  For example, will your UK-based repair stations apply for EASA 145 under the third-country provisions?  Will your UK-based manufacturers apply for EASA POA under the third-country provisions?

Bear in mind that we’ve dealt here only with the airworthiness acceptance issues in this article.  Commercial relationships will be further complicated by myriad other issues, ranging from import tariffs to continued operations of aircraft.

This is a developing issue.  ASA will be taking steps to keep members informed, and ASA hopes to host discussions about the impact of Brexit in the near future.

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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.

Watch Out for Brexit – That EASA Form One Might Have a Shelf Life!

How will Brexit affect the typical ASA member?  Although the full details are as yet unknown, the prima facie thoughts have been published by the European Commission (EC), and these thoughts could reflect future problems for ASA members.  In summary, UK-originated EASA Form 1 will be considered invalid in the EU after Brexit.

The European Commission published a Notice to Stakeholders detailing the consequences of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union’s aviation safety rules.  The Notice explains that when the UK leaves the European Union (EU), then from an EU perspective, this action will (1) invalidate all certificates issued by the UK CAA, and (2) invalidate all certificates issued by the UK CAA certificate holders.  Certificates will be invalid as of the withdrawal date, which is currently set for 11pm on March 29, 2019.

The Notice explains that “[t]he products, parts and appliances concerned will no longer be considered as certified in accordance with Article 5 of the Basic Regulation.”  Article 5 of the Basic Regulation provides the legal foundation for the issue of an EASA Form 1 for a part or appliance.  In a practical sense, if you have an EASA Form 1 for a new part, and it was issued in the UK, then the EU will no longer recognize it as a valid document after Brexit.  This means that parts in your inventory that bear EASA Form 1 may have to be segregated and identified as “UK” and “EU,” in order to ensure that if they are still in inventory after Brexit, that they can be directed to customers who are legally able to use those parts.
There is an grandfather-clause that applies to parts that are already installed on an aircraft.  It does not provide any safe harbor for parts already in a distributor’s inventory.
What about release to service documents issued by 145 organizations located in the UK?  These are issued on EASA Form 1 tags, but they are arguably do not reflect certification “in accordance with Article 5 of the Basic Regulation.”  This technical argument is unlikely to save those tags.  Another provision in the Notice makes it clear that:
“Certificates confirming compliance with the provisions of the Basic Regulation and its implementing rules issued before the withdrawal date … will no longer be valid.”
This would appear to apply to maintenance release documents, as well, because they are described in Annex IV of the basic regulation (and also because disallowing UK certificates as “third-party certificates” is consistent with the message of the Notice).
How do you know if a Form 1 is subject to these conditions?  Look in block one (in the upper left had corner).  That block identifies the aviation authority under whose legal authority the form was issued (usually by identifying the name of the nation and/or the name of the aviation authority).  As an example, here is a link to a form issued under the legal authority granted by France’s DGAC; and here is a link to an overhaul tag issued under the legal authority granted by the UK CAA.
It is possible that further negotiations will result in an agreement between the EU and the UK to change this declaration.  It is also possible that Brexit could be reversed.  But, absent some other agreement, the EU will no longer accept UK-based EASA Form 1 for new parts, even if the Form was issued while the UK was still part of the EU, after the withdrawal date.
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