Mandatory Service Bulletins?

By Bill O’Brien In an email from Joe Escobar, the editor of this magazine, he wrote: “There seems to be a trend for OEMs to cover their hind ends by incorporating language in their service bulletins that the service bulletin is an amendment to...

  1. Made mandatory by an AD or other specific rule within the FAR.
  2. Made mandatory by the type certificate data sheet.

The next bit of research I uncovered is AC 20-115 Manufacturers’ Service documents published on Oct. 22, 1981. It is a 4 1/2-page AC that when you boil all the blood and fat out of it the main thrust of the AC is that any change to the aircraft’s type design requires FAA Approval. This was an attempt by the FAA to stop manufacturers from using the words “FAA Approved” or similar words in a back door attempt to mandate the operator to have the service bulletin complied with. To set the record straight, paragraph (e) of the AC states: It has also been common practice in the past for manufacturers to mark entire service documents, such as service bulletins and all-operator letters, as “FAA Approved, “FAA/DER Approved,” or DER Approved. This practice implies that the service document has been reviewed, evaluated, and approved in total by the FAA. However, since there is no regulatory basis for FAA approval of certain information in service documents, only the type certification data should be indicated as FAA Approved. A single statement to this effect should be included on the appropriate page of the document.

Paragraph (b)(2) of the AC states: Service documents should be neither treated or represented as the official FAA approval documents, unless either a letter of design approval from the FAA or a record that compliance has been determined by an FAA designees is on file for recommended actions indicated as FAA-approved in service documents.

The next bit of research on mandatory service bulletins that I found was in AC 20-177A Use of Manufacturers’ Maintenance Manuals. This AC was just published on April 6, 2007. This effort was a response to the hundreds of calls to FAA headquarters each year about the mandatory service bulletin problem. Paragraph 6 of the AC states: The following is a list of situations when service bulletins (SB) would be regulatory and covers most situations ASIs encounter. (Note: reference to manufacturer’s SB will encompass all manufacturers’ service information.)

  • All or a portion of a SB is incorporated as part of an Airworthiness Directive (AD).
  • SB are a part of the FAA–approved Airworthiness Limitation section of the manufacturer’s manual or the type certificate.
  • SB are incorporated directly or by reference into some type of FAA-approved inspection program, such as an Approved Aircraft Inspection Program or CAMP.
  • SB are listed as an additional maintenance requirement in the certificate holder’s Operation Specifications.

The bottom line, not-with-standing the four exceptions noted above, is the FAA states again that manufacturers’ service bulletins are not mandatory because in order to be mandatory, they the manufacturer, must have the regulatory authority to change the product’s type design. Only the FAA has that authority.

The mechanic
Every mechanic, repair station, and FBO has run up against the mandatory service bulletin question, “Do service bulletins apply or not?” To its credit the FAA has not wavered and has stated over the last 30 plus years that service bulletins are not mandatory. But there is another player in the game. The latest quandary involving mandatory service bulletins was last year’s NTSB ruling in Law verses the Administrator that said: “While compliance with service instructions or service bulletins may not be mandatory in the absence of an AD, a manufacturer may legitimately incorporate such service publication into a manual by reference.”

For an in-depth understanding of the Board ruling, I recommend you pull up Steve Prentice’s, AMT contributor, September 2006 article: Mandatory Bulletins and Service Bulletins vs. AD Limitations, and TCDs. His article also explains in detail his legal concerns on the Board’s ruling. I believe that the mechanic will appeal the finding and win because no manufacturer has the right to change type design.

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