The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2009 was recently passed by the House of Representatives, despite aviation industry concern over language in the bill concerning foreign repair stations.
The controversial language in question would require the FAA to inspect all foreign FAA-certified repair stations, twice a year. This requirement would undercut the terms of the existing bilateral safety agreements with Maintenance Implementation Procedures (MIPs) as well as the proposed US – European Union (EU) bilateral agreement.
Under the standard MIPs procedures, the US agrees to provide direct oversight of US repair stations with foreign certificates in the course of the FAA’s normal oversight of US certificates, and the foreign government agrees to provide direct oversight to foreign repair stations with US repair station certificates in the course of the foreign government’s normal oversight. MIPS are only signed with foreign governments that have the infrastructure to perform inspections on behalf of the US, and are based upon a finding that both the US and the foreign government have regulatory systems that comply with ICAO standards.
Ultimately, if this inspection requirement became law, it could end up hurting the aviation maintenance industry in the U.S, which has far more repair stations than the rest of the world does.
The US could face foreign retalkiation. For example, the EU could choose to respond to such a requirement by requiring US repair stations with EASA 145 acceptance certificates to have semi-annual inspections from EASA inspectors. This would be expensive for the US repair stations (who would have to pay all costs for the European audits) and it would also limit the number of EASA 145 acceptance certificates in the US based upon the limited EASA inspection resources.
Although Congressman Oberstar has publicly stated that retaliation is unlikely, European sources have indicated that members of the European Parliament have already been contemplating retaliation, and that it may be a likely result of such an inspection requirement.
This should be a concern for PMA manufacturers because strained relations between the US and its trading partners in the area of aviation maintenance could also lead to less interest in buying US-made aircraft parts.
There was bipartisan support in the House for changing the repair station language, to make it more acceptable to the international community, but thta support was not strong enough to make the change happen; however, some members of the aviation industry remain hopeful and have indicated that they will push for the inspection requirement to be dropped from the bill when the bill is considered by the Senate. The bill is on track to be introduced in the Senate next week or the week after.
One of the real question marks in the Senate is Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She has strong ties to organized labor, but there are many who feel that the Senator could be potential ally to the aviation industry. The reason that he rlabor ties are important is because the provision has more than just air safety implications – if US air carriers are unable to use foreign repair stations to perofrm their line station work, then this work would accrete back to the bargaining unit, and the air carrier would have to hire mechanics for the foreign locations – mechanics who would pay union dues (probably the same people doing the work now … but they would have to work for the air carrier instead of the repair station).
The Reauthorization bill also addresses labor negotiations, mandating that the FAA seek aid from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service or an alternative mediator in the event that negotiations break down, and, failing a resolution from mediation, go before the Federal Service Impasses panel. This is a departure from the power given to the FAA in their 1996 reauthorization, which allowed the agency to impose final contract terms when labor negotiations break down. This power to unilaterally force pay and work rules was used by the FAA in 2006 when the agency was unable to come to a labor agreement with the air traffic controllers union.