The GA Shop in Rural Europe

Star Airservice is located on Teuge Airport, a small general aviation (GA) airport in a rural part of the Netherlands, approximately 100 kilometers east of Amsterdam. It holds a European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) 145 authorization as a GA maintenance organization providing maintenance services for most single- and multi-engine general aviation (GA) aircraft, Robinson helicopters, and provides parts and equipment distribution representing several GA-related OEMs.

Partners Marc Westenberg and Erik Moen are the two principles of Star Airservice. I first met Westenberg in February while attending the Inspection Authorization (IA) renewal seminar at the FAA International Field Office (IFO) in Frankfurt, Germany. Along with his EASA Part 66 certificate as a ground engineer, he also holds an FAA Airframe and Powerplant Certificate with an Inspection Authorization.

The reason for my visit was simple: to learn more about GA maintenance in Europe. It didn’t take long after arriving before we became immersed in conversation about similarities and differences between GA maintenance in Europe and the USA.

The day of my visit I found technicians busy with two Cessna 172 inspections and a Cessna 404 near the end of a lengthy Supplemental Structural Inspection Document (SSID) inspection program. Other aircraft filled the hangar and at first glance all appeared similar to any GA shop in the States. Then I noticed the first difference; most of the aircraft had registration numbers from a variety of different countries.

The aviation micro-community

Westenberg explains, “Aviation in Europe is kind of a micro-community. Currently we have aircraft in the shop with Dutch, Belgian, Austrian, and U.S. registration. Our EASA 145 certificate authorizes us to maintain aircraft registered by an EASA member state.” He went on to talk about the challenges sometimes encountered when working on aircraft from multiple countries, “Even though most of the work we accomplish is under the authority of EASA we still have to consider requirements from other National Aviation Authorities (NAA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).”

The staff consists of four technicians or ground engineers who hold EASA Part 66 certification and several others who are in the process of acquiring certification. Depending on workloads, two additional EASA Part 66 ground engineers who also hold an A&P/IA are called upon to assist.

Theo Hendricks was checking the magneto timing on a Cessna 172 and says, “I’ve been an aircraft mechanic all my life working on general aviation aircraft and on WWII aircraft restoration.” Hendricks holds an EASA Part 66 certification and has held an FAA A&P/IA certificate for 25 years.

Rubin Reitsma, one of the younger mechanics, explains, “I’ve been working as a mechanic for three years and soon plan to get my ground engineer certificate and my A&P.”

Westenberg says, “Having an FAA A&P/IA in Europe is important, whereas in the States few GA technicians have EASA Part 66 certificates. There are many aircraft that are owned and operated here in Europe that remain N-registered and we work on them often. We must have the A&P/IA and follow the FAA rules.”

Star Airservice participates with a Dutch aircraft maintenance school by providing a place for students to gain practical experience as part of the school’s internship program. Two of the mechanics are currently aircraft maintenance students. Students participate in their first internship program in year three of their studies, and then again in year four they participate in a longer internship period. Additionally, an internship slot for a trainee from MTU, a larger MRO based in Germany, is provided. This latest trainee is a young woman from Germany emphasizing the point that aviation in Europe has no borders.

One similarity I noticed was the age of the staff; a mix of senior experienced people, younger folks, and students, and really no one in-between. We spoke about this and many of the same concerns heard in the U.S. were voiced about aircraft maintenance in Europe; an aging work force; where will the next generation of aircraft technicians come from; aviation may be losing appeal as a career; a tough regulatory environment; and airlines shifting heavy maintenance work to other regions of the world.

A complex system

“The EASA system is more complex than what you guys in the States have with the FAA,” says Hendricks, “I question if the complexity really makes it safer; it does create more administrative work.” Sometimes the aviation micro-community can cause confusion between requirements from EASA and a given country’s NAA.

One example given was a request made for a ferry permit. Similar to what often occurs here in the States, a small GA aircraft needed to be flown from one location to another for an inspection. This also meant moving it from one country to another. Westenberg says, “I spoke with the NAA of the country and EASA, and was first under the impression no one was sure who was responsible to provide the ferry permit. It was finally resolved; but it took a few phone calls.”

Westenberg says, “About once a month we will be asked by a customer to travel to another country to work on an aircraft. Our Maintenance Organization Exposition (MOE) which is similar to your FAA repair station manual contains a process for determining if we go or not. There is an approved checklist we must follow and if we can’t meet the requirements we don’t go, even if the aircraft is just across the border, an hour drive away.”

The CAMO

Star Airservice has an additional yet separate company called Bon-Air Aircraft Management B.V. Bon-Air is a continuing airworthiness management organization (CAMO), managing the airworthiness of approximately 25 single engine and a few multi-engine GA aircraft.

“Having a CAMO manage the airworthiness of your aircraft is not a requirement of the maintenance provider, it is a requirement of EASA. In the early days it was intended to be a convenience to the aircraft owner,” explains Moen.

The FAA places the responsibility for ensuring the airworthiness of an aircraft on the owner/operator. The CAMO as it was explained is a stand-alone organization intended to be a controlled environment for management of airworthiness; a technical bookkeeping process to ensure the airworthiness of an aircraft.

Moen says, “Sometimes problems arise so there needs to be a good relationship between the owner, the CAMO, and the maintenance organization.”

The opinions regarding the CAMO requirement for small GA aircraft were apparent, and I was told some feel it’s become a burden on all parties; the owner, the maintenance provider, and the CAMO. Moen says, “Many GA people feel there really was no problem with airworthiness, yet the industry was given a requirement as if there was a problem.”

Westenberg and Moen both agreed that many of the same challenges are felt by other GA maintenance organizations in other European countries. “Sometimes it looks like all the requirements are straining the entire system and causing frustration. I hope it doesn’t end up hurting general aviation,” Westenberg says.

My short visit concluded yes there are differences, and that challenges operating a small GA maintenance organization can be found on either side of the Atlantic. There also are similarities, the first being we are all aircraft maintenance professionals tasked with the same important role.

The people at Star Airservice were enthusiastic about aviation, eager to discuss their views, and a most gracious host allowing AMT to experience a day of general aviation maintenance in the Netherlands. Visit its web site at www.star-airservice.nl.

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