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Aircraft Parts, aviation, Distribution, FAA, FAA Design Approval, Manufacturing, PMA, Policy

Commercial Parts: A Potential New Market for PMA

The FAA has published a draft advisory circular on Commercial Parts. This Commercial Parts issue could pose a business opportunity for some companies, while erecting an impediment to operation for others.  Commercial Parts is an issue that could affect many companies in the aviation industry, so it is worthwhile for every person in the industry to review this draft and offer their comments.

History

The revisions to the Part 21 manufacturing rule that the FAA published on October 16, 2009 included a variety of new rules.  One of those changes was a modification to the standards for manufacturing.  Under the old standards, only parts that were manufactured for installation in type certificated aircraft were regulated by the FAA. Such parts were required to be made under FAA production approval (like PC, PMA, TSOA) or under another recognized exception (like owner-operator produced parts, standard parts, etc.).

This meant that parts made for other industries were not regulated at the manufacturing point. For example, a light bulb with general utility across a wide variety of industries would not be regulated by the FAA at the manufacturing level.  It would, however, be regulated at the point of installation.  At the time of installation on an aircraft, the FAA would regulate the installation of the light bulb though Part 43, and would impose on the installer an obligation to assure the airworthiness of the installation.

The New Commercial Parts Standards

Under the new Part 21 standards (which go into effect April 16, 2011), articles are subject to FAA manufacturing regulations if the manufacturer knows, or should know, that the article is reasonably likely to be installed on a type-certificated product. This expands the scope of parts that will be subject to the FAA’s PMA rules. For example, if a light bulb manufacturer sells its light bulbs to aviation industry customers (or knows that its distributors make such sales) then the manufacturer should know that such articles are reasonably likely to be installed on aircraft. Under this situation, the manufacturer must obtain a PMA in order to continue making those articles.

In order for a part to be “commercial” under the new standards, a design approval holder (e.g. type certificate holder or PMA holder) creates a list of such parts and applies to the FAA, demonstrating in the application that each part on the list has no safety affect.  This is an optional privilege –  design approval holders are under no obligation to publish such lists.

Informal interviews with type certificate holders suggest that few of them are interested in the additional burden associated with publishing a commercial parts list. This poses a potential commercial problem for operators and for the distributors upon whom they rely. There is a fear that manufacturers of would-be “commercial” parts may start to mark them as “not for aviation use,” in order to avoid the PMA requirements under the new legal standard. In such a case, it would be difficult for air carriers to purchase and install those parts even thought they are the same parts that the air carrier has been using for many years. Distributors of such parts may find it difficult to continue selling parts that are labeled in that way to their air carrier customers.

In some cases, the design approval holder would gain a monopoly over distribution of these parts.  Thus, publishing a commercial parts lists would be contrary to the design approval holder’s own financial interests.  In other cases, though, the value associated with these detail parts may make them undesirable commodities to many type certificate holders.

This could pose an interesting opportunity for PMA companies.  If detail parts that ave previously been sold as “commercial” are no longer considered “commercial” then someone will need to step into the breach in order to make sure that these parts are available to air carriers.  Companies with experience in navigating the PMA approval process could be a perfect source for such parts.  This is especially true if MARPA and the FAA are successful in our efforts to develop a streamlined process for approving parts that have a low-level of criticality.

The draft commercial parts advisory circular is available online. The draft is open for comments through August 19, 2010.  MARPA would appreciate receiving copies of your comments as well, so that we can make sure our comments reflect the range of concerns expressed by our members.

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About Jason Dickstein

Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.

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