No, Aircraft Disassembly is Not a Maintenance Activity Under the FAA Regulations

Many ASA members have entered the exciting world of aircraft disassembly.  A member recently reported that he has encountered some customers who believe that aircraft disassembly can only be performed by a repair station under FAA regulations. This belief is untrue.

Part 43 of the FAA’s regulations requires that alteration, rebuilding, maintenance, and preventative maintenance be performed only by parties authorized to do so under the regulations. 14 C.F.R. § 43.3(a). Other functions that are not specifically regulated by the FAA remain unregulated functions.

Aircraft Disassembly is Not Regulated Under Part 43 nor Part 145

It should be obvious that disassembly of an aircraft does not constitute alteration or rebuilding. But could it be a maintenance or preventative maintenance task?

Maintenance is defined in the regulations to be “inspection, overhaul, repair, preservation, and the replacement of parts….” 14 C.F.R. § 1.1 (definition of “maintenance”). This definition also specifically excludes preventive maintenance, which is defined separately.

Aircraft disassembly is different from inspection, overhaul, repair, preservation, and the replacement of parts, so aircraft disassembly is not a species of maintenance under U.S. law.

Preventative maintenance is defined in the regulations to mean “simple or minor preservation operations and the replacement of small standard parts not involving complex assembly operations.” 14 C.F.R. § 1.1 (definition of “preventative maintenance”). This definition is further refined in Appendix A to Part 43. That appendix limits the scope of preventive maintenance only to certain listed functions (this is explicitly described as a limitation so it cannot expand the definition of preventative maintenance). It clarifies that the removal, installation and repair of landing gear tires is a preventative maintenance function (but this only applies in the context of simple or minor preservation operations, and disassembly alone is not a preservation operation). So removal, alone, without any effort to preserve, is not a preventative maintenance function.

Aircraft disassembly is neither a preservation operations nor the replacement of small standard parts, so aircraft disassembly is not a species of preventative maintenance under U.S. law.

Whereas aircraft disassembly is neither alteration, rebuilding, maintenance, nor preventative maintenance, it is not regulated under Part 43, and therefore is not one of the functions reserved to only certain certificate holders,

Thus, it is clear that the FAA Part 43 regulations (and by extension the Part 145 regulations) do not apply to disassembly of aircraft.

The unregulated nature of disassembly is one of the reasons that the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association AFRA) stepped in and offered their Best Management Practices (BMP) for disassembly of aircraft in order to encourage practices designed to preserve airworthiness as well as to guard the environment.  The AFRA BMP provides guidance, and the AFRA auditing program supports compliance to the standard.

This does not mean that repair stations are prevented from disassembling aircraft for their parts. Because this is an unregulated function, repair stations may also perform the disassembly function if they wish.

No Obligation Imposed by Advisory Circular

Some have taken text in FAA’s AC 20-62 out of context and suggested that it might impose restrictions on removal of parts. The text in question (take alone and out of context) states: “Parts with removal records showing traceability to a U.S. certificated aircraft, signed by an appropriately certificated person.” But look at this text in its full context and you see a different picture:

8. INFORMATION RELEVANT TO USED PARTS. The following information may be useful when assessing maintenance records and part status.

d. Seller’s Designation. The seller may be able to provide documentation that shows traceability to an FAA-approved manufacturing procedure for one of the following:

(1) Parts produced by an FAA-PAH by TC, PC, PMA, TSOA.

(2) Parts produced by a foreign manufacturer (in accordance with part 21 subpart N).

(3) Standard parts produced by a named manufacturer.

(4) Parts distributed with direct ship authority.

(5) Parts produced, for the work being accomplished, by a repair station to accomplish a repair or alteration on a specific TC’d product.

(6) Parts produced by an owner or operator for installation on the owner’s or operator’s aircraft (i.e., by a certificated air carrier).

(7) Parts with removal records showing traceability to a U.S. certificated aircraft, signed by an appropriately certificated person.”

Eligibility, Quality, and Identification of Aeronautical Replacement Parts, FAA AC 20-62E, para 8(d) (December 23, 2010).

In its full context, it is obvious that this text is just one of a list of types of parts that are considered acceptable. Most parts removed from aircraft that are intended for reuse will fit into category one (TC, PC, PMA, TSOA), and therefore the analysis will never get to category seven. That category exists for articles that do not fit within one of the first six categories.  Note also that this text harkens back to the time when it was assumed that any part removed from an aircraft was a good part – modern practice recognizes that mistakes are made at installation and therefore modern disassembly procedure scrutinizes each part and its records to properly identify it without making unsubstantiated assumptions.

Further, the FAA does not have any removal record, and has no regulations reflecting removal records. For this reason, no certificate is necessary in order to sign a removal record.



Proposed Rule Change Would Alter the Way that Major Repairs are Recorded – Could Undermine Use of 8130-3 Tags

The FAA has proposed a change to the record-keeping requirements that repair stations must meet when they perform major repairs.  This change could affect both repair stations who perform the work, and the distributors and others who rely on repair stations to perform that work. The change can be found in the FAA’s proposed revisions to the repair station rules.

Under current law, when anyone performs a major repair, they are required to complete and file a FAA Form 337.  This requirement is found in 14 C.F.R. Part 43, Appendix B, Subsection (a).  The purpose of the form is to provide the FAA with a record of the work performed. This record-keeping requirements is in addition to the requirement to complete an approval for return to service under 14 C.F.R. § 43.9.

Under current law and standard practice, when a repair station performs a major repair, it is required to complete an approval for return to service to meet the requirements of 14 CFR 43.9, but it has the option to perform an alternative record-keeping operation instead of filing a FAA Form 337 with the FAA.  Instead of that filing, the repair station is permitted to provide the customer with a maintenance release in order to meet the requirements of Appendix B to Part 43 [note that use of a FAA Form 337 remains permitted as a mechanism to meet the requirements of Appendix B, but that Form is more commonly used for Major Alterations in the repair station sector].

Although some repair station have found ways to conflate these two record-keeping requirements into a single document, it is still very common to see two separate records that meet the two separate requirements.

Here is a table that shows some typical methods for meeting the two different documentation requirements in different repair circumstances:

Common Documentation Following A Major Repair

Documentation that Constitutes the Approval for Return to Service Documentation that Constitutes the Maintenance Release
Major Repair of a Component 8130-3 Authorized Release Certificate Maintenance Release language included in the Work Order
Major Repair of a Complete Product Log Book Entry (1) Maintenance Release language included in the Work Order OR (2) signed copy of the work order and also a Maintenance Release written into the log book

The table does not describe uniform practices, and many repair stations may have practices that differ, but these represent common ways to meet the two requirements.

The Administrator has proposed to change the Appendix B requirements in order to reference an approval for return to service, rather than a maintenance release.

Under the proposed change, repair stations would still have an obligation to provide the work order, and the would still have an obligation to use the work order to provide the traditional maintenance release language; but the work order would then become the approval for return service document as well.  This would mean that the current industry-standard-practice for documenting component repairs and overhauls, use of the 8130-3 tag, would become inconsistent with regulatory requirements, due to the fact that Appendix B would require the approval for return to service to be created using the work order.

We believe that this is a mistake in drafting, rather than reflecting the actual intent of the Administrator.

The proposed rule provides very little discussion to explain this change.  The Proposed rule suggests that this change is being made for consistency.  77 Fed. Reg at 30071.  The Proposed rule also suggests that the approval for return to service document is identical to the maintenance release described in Appendix B.  77 Fed. Reg at 30070.  While this latter suggestion is inconsistent with past FAA practice, it nonetheless reflects good future practice; the additional text described in Appendix B for major repairs should be described as additional text for the approval for return to service in order to clarify that subsection (b) of the Appendix is merely adding additional elements to the already-required record-keeping obligation of 14 C.F.R. § 43.9.

From the context of the Administrator’s preamble, it is obvious that the Administrator wants to conflate these two documents (approval for return to service and maintenance release) in order to minimize burden.  ASA applauds this idea, because reducing unnecessarily redundant paperwork obligations is always a good idea; however, ASA feels that the actual change as proposed (1) fails to accomplish the Administrator’s goals, (2) changes an industry standard record-keeping practice (use of the 8130-3 tag) in a way that is inconsistent with FAA guidance and current safe industry practices, and (3) creates needless confusion without accomplishing any ameliorative benefit.  An important reason for this unanticipated result is that the rule change fails to modify other related obligations (like the persisting obligation to provide the work order, and the requirement to use the work order to document the required details).  ASA therefore has an alternative language proposal that we feel may better meet the Administrator’s intent.

In order to accomplish the Administrator’s obvious intent. ASA recommends that the language of Appendix B be changed as follows (proposed additions are shown as underlined words – proposed deletions are shown as struck-out):

Appendix B to Part 43—Recording of Major Repairs and Major Alterations

* * *

(b) For major repairs made in accordance with a manual or specifications acceptable to the Administrator, a certificated repair station may, in place of the requirements of paragraph (a)—

(1) Use the customer’s work order upon which the repair is recorded;

(2) Give the aircraft owner customer a signed copy of the customer’s work order upon which the repair is recorded, and retain a duplicate copy for at least two years from the date of approval for return to service of the aircraft, airframe, aircraft engine, propeller, or appliance;

(32) Give the customer aircraft owner a maintenance release an approval for return to service that meets the requirements of section 43.9 of this Part and that signed by an authorized representative of the repair station and incorporatesing the following additional information:

(i) Identity of the aircraft, airframe, aircraft engine, propeller or appliance.

(ii) If an aircraft, the make, model, serial number, nationality and registration marks, and location of the repaired area.

(iii) If an airframe, aircraft engine, propeller, or appliance, give the manufacturer’s name, name of the part, model, and serial numbers (if any); and

(43) Include, as part of the approval for return to service,  the following or a similarly worded statement—

“The aircraft, airframe, aircraft engine, propeller, or appliance identified above was repaired and inspected in accordance with current Regulations of the Federal Aviation Agency and is approved for return to service.

Pertinent details of the repair are on file at this repair station under Order No. ___,


For signature of authorized representative)

Repair station name)      (Certificate No.)



Reducing redundancies in paperwork is a great idea; but right now, the industry recognizes the 8130-3 tag as a standard method for recording maintenance and for approving it for return to service.  The proposed language of the regulation, which would require the approval for return to service to be listed on the Work Order, would change this and would require distributors and others to become trained in the recognition of appropriate language on a diverse collection of Work Order formats.  This sort of reduction in uniformity would actually decrease safety by making it more likely that unusual language in a Work Order could confuse a receiving inspector in a distributor or operator environment as to the true nature and scope of the approval for return to service.  While we applaud the idea of conflating the approval for return to service and the maintenance release, we ask that the FAA carefully draft the language to ensure that industry standard practices, like use of the 8130-3 tag for approval for return to service for component work, can continue to remain in place.

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