In one case the errant operator even went so far as to say that the people who maintained and flew the aircraft were independent contractors and therefore the operator had no responsibility for maintenance or maintenance records. Plaintiff lawyers and the FAA would argue that they were not independent contractors. The operator was trying to dump on the technicians who took care of the aircraft. An interesting concept. Regulations, however, require that an operator retain primary airworthiness responsibility regardless of any contractual arrangement for maintenance. This includes responsibility for maintenance and records. The operator of the charter flight added that he did not have to produce pay, flight, duty time, and training records for mechanics or pilots and maintenance records of payment for services on the aircraft. They failed to provide most of the requested records and stated absurdly that release of records would violate privacy regulations because pilots and mechanics were independent contractors. Very imaginative!
Most observers are aware of the weakness of FAA surveillance involved with Part 135 operators and the reluctance of principal operations and maintenance inspectors to cite their operators or shut them down. Emergency revocation is the best tool to accomplish this but there has been a tendency to avoid upsetting a certificate and opening a can of worms. Budgets for FSDOs are increased and POI’s and PMI’s earn more for their supervision of air carriers because of the additional work and overtime required. The FAA recently has started a process to tighten up its charter surveillance by redefining the concept of operational control of flight and maintenance activities. A revised and updated specification regarding control is due to be published shortly. The fact remains that FAA is woefully ill-equipped and understaffed to accomplish its charter surveillance jobs properly.
The companies described above are still under examination and will be for some time to come. Whoever performed maintenance on the aircraft and kept the records is still being unraveled and civil litigation continues. Rest assured that maintenance people are under pressure where the records are sketchy or their work questionable. Keep in mind also, that there is no statute of limitations on FAR violations. FAA can come after you anytime, anyplace for any violations.
The threats of being associated with air carriers that get in trouble with accidents and violations are ever-present, not only for FAR violations but for other results that can follow. Consider, for example, FAR 135.13(b)1,2. This simply says that if you are a management person for a 135 air carrier that had its certificate revoked you may be denied further employment in a management position at another carrier. The gist is that if you are tainted by the conduct that resulted in a sanction, you will have difficulty getting approved by the FAA for another air carrier management position.
The “taint” incidentally, does not have to result in certificate action against a director of maintenance (DOM) in order to affect his ability to participate as a management person at another carrier.
As another common example, consider where a 135 operator certificate was revoked. One of the reasons was that they were using aircraft that were not approved and listed in their operations specifications. The DOM does not have any say so, as a rule, over what aircraft the carrier uses in day-to-day operations. However, he does have supervision over the maintenance performed on them. Here the DOM is presumed to be aware of the contents of his operations specifications.
When he claimed he was innocent of any wrongdoing, the FAA said that he was responsible for aircraft operated in violation of FARs and his own operations specifications. This is strong stuff that should be carefully considered by all DOMs and technicians as well. Have you reviewed your companies operations specifications recently?
Regarding the spate of accidents involving Part 135 certificate holders, operators, their agents, lessees, or so-called contractors, one of the Board members stated recently:
“In general . . . except for initially certifying Part 135 operators, FAA oversight appears to be lacking . . . oversight of Part 135 operators is mostly limited to review of paperwork without actual physical inspections or equipment, maintenance or operational practices.”
Board Member Deborah Hersman.
It would appear that NTSB recognizes that the FAA does not have the resources or the people to oversee the various complex arrangements that have been created to circumvent the necessity for acquiring operating certificates. The advent of corporate shelters under various names is commonplace today. Please send your comments or other examples of abuse of the regulations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As those in the air carrier business know, FAA operations people must approve most management positions. FAR 135 and 121 are both covered with management job qualification requirements.
Fractional Technicians? What's At Stake? By Stephen P. Prentice April 1999 Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an Airframe and...
Recurrent Maintenance Training Badly needed, often neglected By Stephen P. Prentice July 2000 Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an...
How maintenance fits in