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New Requirements for PMA Holders include Enhanced Supplier Requirements

The FAA is proposing changes to the Part 21 manufacturing rules.  A number of these will impact PMA holders.  It will be important for the PMA community to provide comments to this NPRM.

The proposed changes include:

  • Require each production approval holder to identify an accountable manager who would be responsible for, and have authority over, their production operations and serve as the primary contact with the FAA;
  • Require each production approval holder to provide the FAA with a document describing how its organization will ensure compliance;
  • Permit each production approval holder to issue authorized release documents (8130-3 tags) for aircraft engines, propellers, and articles;
  • Permit production certificate holders to manufacture and install interface components;
  • Require production approval holders to ensure that each supplier-provided product, article, or service conforms to the production approval holder’s requirements;
  • Establish a supplier-reporting process for products, articles, or services that have been released from or provided by the supplier and subsequently found not to conform to the production approval holder’s requirements; and
  • Remove the requirement that fixed-pitch wooden propellers be marked using an approved fireproof method.

With respect to the new permission for PMA holders to issue 8130-3 tags, the FAA confirms that the intent is to permit manufacturers to issue the 8130-3 tags, although the NPRM appears to be missing an explicit authority to issue such a release.  Instead, the NPRM as drafted requires a procedure for managing the 8130-3 tags process; but subpart L continues to require application to the FAA for issue of an 8130-3 tag.  This is something that will need to be changed if the FAA is to successfully implement this provision.

If the proposal becomes a regulation, the rules would include a requirement for supplier control and a parallel requirement for ensuring conformity of supplier products.  This appears to suggest that supplier control must be supplemented with 100% conformity verification of incoming supply; but more importantly it would also mean that non-conforming supplier-provided-parts would represent a regulatory violation even when they are caught in the PMA holder’s incoming inspection!  This seems to be inappropriate.

The proposed rule is scheduled to be issued in tomorrow’s Federal Register.  An advance copy is available online today at https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2014-04330.pdf.

MARPA Files Papers with the FAA on Proposed Repair Station Rule Changes

MARPA has filed comments in response to the FAA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning repair stations and their ratings.  Although the ratings proposal was the centerpiece of this proposed rule, many of the proposals that caused the most concern were those unrelated to the ratings element of the proposal.

This is a proposed rule that could have a significant effect on the MARPA Community.  Some of the regulatory proposals, for example, could inhibit PMA growth if they are fully implemented.

Issues addressed by the wide-ranging comments from MARPA included:

  • Recertification
  • Certificate Surrender
  • Asset Sale
  • Ratings
  • Capabilities Lists in the Operations Specifications
  • Removing Operations Specifications from the Certificate
  • Capabilities Lists
  • Quality Systems
  • Appropriate Equipment and Tools
  • Permanent Blacklisting From the Industry under § 1051(e)
  • Entitlement to Certificate under § 1053(a)
  • Change to Part 43 Appendix B

A complete set of the MARPA Comments can be found on the MARPA website.

SBA Repair Station Rule Roundtable

As previously mentioned on this blog, the FAA’s proposed Aviation Repair Station rule is very likely to have noticeable secondary effects on other companies, including PMA parts manufacturers.  On November 5, MARPA and other members of the aviation community, as well as representatives from the FAA, met for a Small Business Administration roundtable to discuss the proposed rule.

The FAA, although not able to take comment at the meeting, offered a presentation on the purpose and intent of the rule and were available to attempt to answer any questions posed by attendees.  The FAA explained that the purpose of the rule is to align FAA regulations with current industry practices and aircraft technology.  The FAA also stated that they believe they have addressed the numerous comments that resulted in the rejection of similar proposed rules in 1999 and 2006.

Industry attendees expressed a number of concerns with the proposed rule.  One concern is that due to the slow nature of the rule-making process, current industry practices have already moved beyond that which is contemplated by the proposed rule. There also appears a risk of creating confusion as the rule introduces inconsistent terms to the regulations.

The rule may also create significant adminstrative burdens.  It would require that each of approximately five thousand repair stations renew their certificates with 24 months of the rule becoming effective.  There is some doubt as to whether the FAA has the resources to process so many renewals in such a limited time frame, particularly faced with the reality that most applications would occur toward the end of the 24-month window.

The rule creates additional administrative burdens on the repair station side, as supervisory personnel will be required to be on hand to oversee work performed, changes to capabilities lists will have to be approved by the FAA or through self-evaluation, and substantial new employee training requirments are implemented.

Additionally, the new “Component Rating” propsed by the rule poses a particular threat to PMA manufacturers.  Repair stations will be expected to maintain a component capabilities list in their operations specifications.  Because of the burdens associated with amending and updating op specs, many repair stations may have difficulties in efficiently updating their components capabilities lists.  This is especially troubling for PMA.  Even though a PMA part is most likely maintained in the exact same way as its OEM corrollary part, a repair station may still be required to call out that specific PMA part number in its op specs in order to perform maintenance.  Given the smaller population of PMA parts, many repair stations may not be willing to go through the op spec amendment process to add the PMA part to their capabilities list.

The cumulative effect of these additional burdens may have the result of decreasing the number of repair stations allowed to repair PMA parts even though they are technically proficient.  Smaller repair stations may also find themselves priced out of business by the addtional financial costs associated with the new administraive burdens.

The FAA will accept public comments on the proposed rule through November 19, 2012. Comments should reference FAA Docket Number “FAA–2006–26408.”

Proposed Repair Station Rule Could Interfere with Repair of PMA Parts

Today, the FAA issued a significant new proposed rule for repair stations.  One of the elements that would be updated is the ratings system for repair stations.The proposed changes could have an unintended effect of limiting the ability of the repair station industry to repair PMA parts.

One significant difference is that FAA is proposing a new “Component” rating that would replace the Radio, Instrument, and Accessory ratings. The proposed “Component” rating would allow repair stations to work components that are not installed on an airframe, powerplant, or propeller (bench work). A repair station with a Component rating would be required to have an Airframe, Powerplant, or Propeller rating to install components or appliances. The FAA expects that such a product-level rating would be limited to only installation and removal. The preamble to the rule states that the FAA expects that Component-rated repair stations would have a list of their components in their operations specifications. In light of the difficulty now faced by some repair stations in amending their operations specifications, keeping the component list in the op specs would likely make it very difficult for a component repair station to add new components to their list of permissible components, which in turn would probably cause many smaller component shops to stagnate as new products come out but the operations specification amendment process limited their ability to add them as capabilities.

For PMA parts, this could raise an interesting difficulty.  Even though most PMA parts are maintained in exactly the same way as the OEM corollary part, a repair station might not be permitted to maintain the PMA part if the part was not on its operations specifications.  Because the population of PMA parts is smaller than the population ofOEM parts, it is reasonable to believe that some repair stations will not go through the op spec amendment process to add a PMA part number to their operations specifications.

This would have the unintended effect of decreasing the repair stations that are legally permitted to repair a PMA part, even though they are technically qualified.

The FAA will accept public comments on the proposed rule through August 20, 2012. Comments should reference FAA Docket Number “FAA–2006–26408.”

MARPA files SMS Comments

On Monday, MARPA filed comments on the FAA’s Safety Management Systems (SMS) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).

MARPA’s comments illustrate a veriety of problems withthe proposed SMS regulations, including:

  • Paperwork Reduction Act inaccuracies
  • Regulatory Flexibility / cost-benefit inaccuracies
  • Redundancies
  • Alternative ways to achieve the desired results
  • Specific elements of the rule that needed to be changed

In addition, MARPA has also added some previously filed comments to the Government Affairs page on the MARPA website.

SMS – Get Involved or the Joke May be On You!

When developing significant new safety regulations, it is especially important to “get it right the first time.”  The reason for this special emphasis in the context of safety regulations, is because an incorrect safety regulation can oppose its intended effect – it can diminish safety – and this is unacceptable in our industry.  “Getting it right the first time” is about more than increasing safety in a static analysis – it is about creating safety regulations that will continue to increase safety in the future, without impeding other safety advances.

Take humor as a metaphor for regulation.  A joke may be uproariously funny today but if it fails to tickle the funny bone in ten years, then it is has failed to withstand the test of time (it is not “timeless” humor).  We might find the latest joke about the sitting President’s verbal gaffe to be amusing today, but how many laughs can you get, today, from President Calvin Coolidge’s one-liner “Call again.”

Often, the jokes that survive the test of time are the ones that are the simplest.  Jokes about Lindsey Lohan may seem nonsensical ten years from now, but fart jokes, however disgusting, will remain funny to a certain segment of the population forever (just ask my seven and nine year old sons).

Similarly, the regulations that tend to stand the test of time are often the ones that are the simplest.  They tend to be regulations that establish clear standards for compliance without offering a preference for the method of compliance (Executive Order 12866 actually expresses a preference for these sort of regulations).  Such regulations are the ones that still make sense fifty years after promulgation; they are also the ones that don’t inhibit safety innovation and that don’t impose documentation and reporting requirements that become outdated.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently working on a regulatory change that could reflect the most significant change in aviation law since the 1958 recodification.  The new regulations are known collectively as “Safety Management Systems,” or SMS.  SMS represents a significant step in the nature of quality systems applied to aviation products and services.

The idea of a quality system theory being embodied into the FAA regulations is not new.  The early repair station regulations embraced a quality control mechanism in the Inspection Procedures Manual (IPM) regulations, and this shifted in the direction of a quality assurance paradigm in the 2001 changes to Part 145 (that rule dropped a proposed quality system requirement but retained process-oriented quality manual requirements).  Similarly, the current manufacturing regulations require a mixture of quality assurance and quality control, and the new Part 21 manufacturing regulations that apply as of April 16, 2011 will strengthen the quality assurance character of those regulations.

SMS builds on existing quality assurance paradigms, but there are several things that make SMS new.  One of them is that SMS focuses resources on predictive risk analysis – the process of identifying potential hazards, assigning risk levels to them, and then mitigating the risks below a certain level.  Another is that it mandates a documentation trail whenever the company engages in any sort of safety risk acceptance (placing companies between the Scylla of over-documentation and the Charybdis of violation by failure to identify a hazard); such a documentation trail could lead to new avenues of liability as predictive analysis becomes subject to discovery in civil litigation.

Taken as a quality system, SMS provides a company with tools to help improve an already impressive safety record, by identifying possible future hazards and permitting the company to try to mitigate those hazards before they manifest themselves.  There are certainly positive elements to SMS.  SMS has the potential to generate safety over an extended time the same way that a fart joke generates laughs.

But SMS is not a perfect system, especially based on its contemplated implementation found in the regulations.  In a company that has already identified clear and present hazards, there is no clear mechanism for relief from the requirement to analyze data and identify hazards in order to shift resources to remediation.  If SMS were merely a quality system, then a quality manager would likely give herself the discretion to pull resources from data analysis and focus them on known  hazards.  But in a regulated SMS, a company may find itself perversely focused on data analysis (to meet regulatory requirements) even when those resources could be better expended on identifying and implementing a mitigation to a looming hazard.  This sort of inflexibility in directing resources could actually yield lower net safety as a consequence of SMS, in some cases.

Although the SMS regulation is written with significant apparent flexibility, the SMS Advisory Circular, which has already been drafted, appears to contemplate a resource-intensive system that could be difficult to run in small companies.  It also surrenders a great deal of discretion over the systems to the overseeing FAA inspector, providing a recipe for inconsistent implementation.

In the past, when the FAA has attempted to implement quality system elements, they have been based upon quality elements that have been implemented and for which there is considerable empirical support.  There is some data on the implementation of SMS in air carriers, but there is relatively little data  about the implementation of SMS in other types of aviation businesses – and much of that data suggests that the implementations are not always working out the way that they were intended (a significant number of the repair stations that signed-up to participate in the pilot program, later withdrew because the costs vastly outweighed the benefits).

How can the industry enjoy the benefits of SMS while avoiding its regulatory pitfalls?  How can we avoid SMS becoming the Lindsey Lohan joke of the aviation regulatory system?  It is vital that everyone in the industry read the proposed regulation and also read the draft advisory circular, and offer the FAA comments on ways to (a) simplify the rule, (b) create objective standards for the rule to permit compliance to be easily tested, and (c) provide procedural safeguards to ensure that SMS does not redirect safety resources in a negative way.  The rule remains open for comment through March 7, 2011 (this is an extension of the original comment period).

We can all hope that we end up with a rule that has the staying power of a fart joke.

FAA Delays SMS Deadline

The FAA has delayed the deadline for submitting comments on the Safety Management Systems (SMS) proposed rule.  This delay was in response to a MARPA request for additional time for commenters.

The proposed SMS rule was published on November 5, 2010.  It proposes a new set of regulations that would require air carriers to develop and implement a comprehensive quality management system known as a “Safety Management System.”  This Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) proposes a new Part Five of the FAA regulations that would establish the SMS parameters for regulated businesses.

The rule is likely to have an affect that reaches beyond air carriers.  The proposed rule announced a future intent to impose the new SMS requirements on repair stations and FAA-regulated manufacturers.  It is possible that even before the standards would be imposed on PMA manufacturers, that many of the requirements could be “flowed-down” to PMA manufacturers by their SMS-regulated customers.  For these reasons, the outcome of the proposed rule is very important to the PMA community.

MARPA has been working with its Technical Committee to develop comprehensive comments on the proposed rule.  One of the Committee’s concerns is that if the rule is not well crafted, then it could  misdirect resources and actually impede safety.  MARPA members with ideas or comments are invited to share them with the Association.

The new deadline for comments on the FAA’s SMS proposal is March 7, 2011.   With this delay in the comment deadline, MARPA is hoping to use the additional time to strengthen its comments and to solicit more comments from members.

New FAA Standards: Fatigue Tolerance Evaluation of Metallic Structure NPRM

The FAA published a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on March 12 that would implement a new fatigue tolerance standard for transport category rotorcraft (Part 29 rotorcraft).

The FAA’s NPRM regarding fatigue tolerance evaluations of metallic structures states that it seeks to de-emphasize the use of specific methodologies in the fatigue tolerance evaluations of rotorcraft.  But in an interesting twist, the proposed rule would specifically require applicants to submit their fatigue tolerance evaluation methodologies to the Administrator for approval.

The current version of § 29.571 requires that the applicant use one of three evaluation methods in order to demonstrate fatigue tolerance:

  • Flaw tolerant safe-life evaluation;
  • Fail-safe (residual strength after flaw growth) evaluation;
  • Safe-life evaluation.

The positive spin on the new version of the rule is that it permits applicants to use other evaluation methods to show fatigue tolerance.  The negative is that it provides no standards whatsoever that the FAA will use for its approval of the applicant’s proposed methods – it offers some elements that need to be included but it does not state (nor suggest) that the FAA will be wiling to approve a methodology that merely addresses those elements that are required to be included (at those included elements, alone, appear to be inadequate to meet current FAA desires for fatigue analysis).

Because compliance testing methods are usually described as proprietary, it is possible for the FAA to approve one applicant’s proposal to use a method that has already been rejected from another applicant (or vice versa), providing a real opportunity for the FAA to impose disparate standards on different applicants with almost no opportunity for the applicants to realize that they have been treated differently.  In fact, it is possible, under the new rule, for an applicant to use one of the three methods found under the “old rule” and for that method to be rejected by the FAA, because the FAA has no objective standards for what it must approve under the new rule.

The proposed § 29.571 requires an identification of all threats to all principal structural elements (PSE).  A PSE is defined as any structural element that contributes significantly to the carriage of flight or ground loads. The threat assessment has to include all probable locations, types, and sizes of damage.  It also has to take into account fatigue, environmental effects, intrinsic and discrete flaws, or accidental damage that may occur during manufacture or operation.  Taking into account all locations, types, and sizes of accidental damage seems like a significantly increased burden.

The fatigue analysis must support the inspection and retirement times established in the airworthiness limitations section, and the inspections and retirement times must be established (based on the analysis of the new section) to avoid catastrophic failure.  The language of the rule, as drafted, appears to require that inspection intervals and life limits be established to prevent catastrophic failure in the event of accidental damage.

Current Regulation

Proposed Regulation

§ 29.571 Fatigue evaluation of structure.

(a) General. An evaluation of the strength of principal elements, detail design points, and fabrication techniques must show that catastrophic failure due to fatigue, considering the effects of environment, intrinsic/discrete flaws, or accidental damage will be avoided. Parts to be evaluated include, but are not limited to, rotors, rotor drive systems between the engines and rotor hubs, controls, fuselage, fixed and movable control surfaces, engine and transmission mountings, landing gear, and their related primary attachments. In addition, the following apply:

(1) Each evaluation required by this section must include—

(i) The identification of principal structural elements, the failure of which could result in catastrophic failure of the rotorcraft;

(ii) In-flight measurement in determining the loads or stresses for items in paragraph (a)(1)(i) of this section in all critical conditions throughout the range of limitations in §29.309 (including altitude effects), except that maneuvering load factors need not exceed the maximum values expected in operations; and

(iii) Loading spectra as severe as those expected in operation based on loads or stresses determined under paragraph (a)(1)(ii) of this section, including external load operations, if applicable, and other high frequency power cycle operations.

(2) Based on the evaluations required by this section, inspections, replacement times, combinations thereof, or other procedures must be established as necessary to avoid catastrophic failure. These inspections, replacement times, combinations thereof, or other procedures must be included in the airworthiness limitations section of the Instructions for Continued Airworthiness required by §29.1529 and section A29.4 of appendix A of this part.

(b) Fatigue tolerance evaluation (including tolerance to flaws). The structure must be shown by analysis supported by test evidence and, if available, service experience to be of fatigue tolerant design. The fatigue tolerance evaluation must include the requirements of either paragraph (b)(1), (2), or (3) of this section, or a combination thereof, and also must include a determination of the probable locations and modes of damage caused by fatigue, considering environmental effects, intrinsic/discrete flaws, or accidental damage. Compliance with the flaw tolerance requirements of paragraph (b)(1) or (2) of this section is required unless the applicant establishes that these fatigue flaw tolerant methods for a particular structure cannot be achieved within the limitations of geometry, inspectability, or good design practice. Under these circumstances, the safe-life evaluation of paragraph (b)(3) of this section is required.

(1) Flaw tolerant safe-life evaluation. It must be shown that the structure, with flaws present, is able to withstand repeated loads of variable magnitude without detectable flaw growth for the following time intervals—

(i) Life of the rotorcraft; or

(ii) Within a replacement time furnished under section A29.4 of appendix A to this part.

(2) Fail-safe (residual strength after flaw growth) evaluation. It must be shown that the structure remaining after a partial failure is able to withstand design limit loads without failure within an inspection period furnished under section A29.4 of appendix A to this part. Limit loads are defined in §29.301(a).

(i) The residual strength evaluation must show that the remaining structure after flaw growth is able to withstand design limit loads without failure within its operational life.

(ii) Inspection intervals and methods must be established as necessary to ensure that failures are detected prior to residual strength conditions being reached.

(iii) If significant changes in structural stiffness or geometry, or both, follow from a structural failure or partial failure, the effect on flaw tolerance must be further investigated.

(3) Safe-life evaluation. It must be shown that the structure is able to withstand repeated loads of variable magnitude without detectable cracks for the following time intervals—

(i) Life of the rotorcraft; or

(ii) Within a replacement time furnished under section A29.4 of appendix A to this part.

§ 29.571 Fatigue Tolerance Evaluation of Metallic Structure.

(a) A fatigue tolerance evaluation of each principal structural element (PSE) must be performed, and appropriate inspections and retirement time or approved equivalent means must be established to avoid catastrophic failure during the operational life of the rotorcraft. The fatigue tolerance evaluation must consider the effects of both fatigue and the damage determined in paragraph (e)(4) of this section. Parts to be evaluated include PSEs of the rotors, rotor drive systems between the engines and rotor hubs, controls, fuselage, fixed and movable control surfaces, engine and transmission mountings, landing gear, and their related primary attachments.

(b) For the purposes of this section, the term—

Catastrophic failure means an event that could prevent continued safe flight and landing.

Principal Structural Element (PSE) means a structural element that contributes significantly to the carriage of flight or ground loads, and the fatigue failure of that structural element could result in catastrophic failure of the aircraft.

(c) The methodology used to establish compliance with this section must be submitted and approved by the Administrator.

(d) Considering all rotorcraft structure, structural elements, and assemblies, each PSE must be identified.

(e) Each fatigue tolerance evaluation required by this section must include:

(1) In-flight measurements to determine the fatigue loads or stresses for the PSEs identified in paragraph (d) of this section in all critical conditions throughout the range of design limitations required in § 29.309 (including altitude effects), except that maneuvering load factors need not exceed the maximum values expected in operations.

(2) The loading spectra as severe as those expected in operations based on loads or stresses determined under paragraph (e)(1) of this section, including external load operations, if applicable, and other high frequency power-cycle operations.

(3) Takeoff, landing, and taxi loads when evaluating the landing gear and other affected PSEs.

(4) For each PSE identified in paragraph (d) of this section, a threat assessment which includes a determination of the probable locations, types, and sizes of damage, taking into account fatigue, environmental effects, intrinsic and discrete flaws, or accidental damage that may occur during manufacture or operation.

(5) A determination of the fatigue tolerance characteristics for the PSE with the damage identified in paragraph (e)(4) of this section that supports the inspection and retirement times, or other approved equivalent means.

(6) Analyses supported by test evidence and, if available, service experience.

(f) A residual strength determination is required to establish the allowable damage size. In determining inspection intervals based on damage growth, the residual strength evaluation must show that the remaining structure, after damage growth, is able to withstand design limit loads without failure within its operational life.

(g) The effect of damage on stiffness, dynamic behavior, loads, and functional performance must be considered.

(h) Based on the requirements of this section, inspections and retirement times or approved equivalent means must be established to avoid catastrophic failure. The inspections and retirement times or approved equivalent means must be included in the Airworthiness Limitations Section of the Instructions for Continued Airworthiness required by Section 29.1529 and Section A29.4 of Appendix A of this part.

(i) If inspections for any of the damage types identified in paragraph (e)(4) of this section cannot be established within the limitations of geometry, inspectability, or good design practice, then supplemental procedures, in conjunction with the PSE retirement time, must be established to minimize the risk of occurrence of these types of damage that could result in a catastrophic failure during the operational life of the rotorcraft.

Overall, the NPRM proposes to change the landscape for parties performing fatigue tolerance evaluation.

Comments are due to the FAA on or before June 10, 2010.  MARPA would like to hear your comments on this proposal, in order to make sure that the Association’s comments to the docket accurately reflect your concerns.

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