I am a bureaucrat. Someone has to do it. For the last 18 years I have worked tirelessly in my tiny cubicle of power at FAA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., writing aviation maintenance rules and regulations. I like to think of the regulations that I help write as the cement that holds aviation together. However, my detractors claim I manufacture the glue that is used to lubricate the wheels of progress.
No matter what anyone thinks, about 40 times a year, I find myself at an IA renewal meeting, or a maintenance seminar offered by a FSDO or a state aviation department. Usually my presentation is based on regulations or policy on which I help to write. I am required to do these meetings because early in my career, my boss informed me of a paragraph in my FAA job description titled “other duties as assigned.” We all know what that means.
So motivated by a request from a FSDO manager or industry representative and a travel voucher approved by my boss, I arrive at the appointed time and place like an itinerant salesman hoping to make a sale. And what do I sell? I sell and defend the Federal Aviation Regulations to the toughest audience in the world, aviation mechanics. Why so tough? They are tough, because 90 percent of the audience does not want to be there. Why? Because, this time away from the job will cost them dearly in additional time on the hangar floor, or money, or both.
Despite the cost, they know they must do the time because for a hundred good or bad reasons they did not fulfill the FAA regulatory requirement to perform four annuals, or sign off eight Form 337s, or finish a progressive inspection within the prescribed calendar year for IA renewal that runs from April 1 to March 31.
So like prisoners doing hard time, the IAs reluctantly file into the room. The early arrivals seek out the chairs against the wall in the back of the room hoping to find a place in the shadows to hide or perhaps to nap. The late arrivals slowly fill up the chairs along the sides and middle of the room. Whether it is an unconscious act of rebellion to being forced to come to a meeting or it is just the way life is, the first three rows of seats right in front of the speaker are always noticeably empty, even when there is a crowd standing in the back of the room.
As they sit there waiting for the clock to mark the appointed start of the meeting they know that their only alterative to avoid the next eight hours of being parked in a chair was to take an oral exam from an FAA inspector or take the IA test all over again. So there they sit, trapped in a big room, sitting on a hard chair, wishing hard that they were somewhere else.
I know this is what they are thinking because I see it in everyone’s facial expression. Each mechanic’s face looks like a clenched fist holding a hand grenade. This silent form of mass communication is very intimidating and most speakers would rather not stand up in front of this group.
But stand up I do because it is in my job description. Usually, I do between four to eight hours of training for the IAs and predictably each presentation always starts off with zero participation from the audience. So knowing this, the first thing I do before I begin the first hour of training, I prod them for any comments, complaints, or suggestions dealing with the FARs. Usually there is not a response, not a peep, although on a rare day one or two mechanics might give it a shot. This code of silence continues well into the second hour and lasts until 10 minutes before break time when the collective conscience of the audience awakens and all come to the conclusion that “we can take this guy from Washington” and then the fun begins.
If I do my job right, the mechanics become engaged. They start to question the rules, ask the important who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. I do my best to supply them with the correct answers but sometimes there is no answer to their question and sometimes my reply, although correct, does not pass the mechanic’s common-sense test. This is dumb! is a comment I have heard from a mechanic on more than several occasions after I fail their test. Then change it! was my reply. You have the power!
Everyone in this room as a U.S. citizen has the right and the power to change the regulations that govern his or her profession. Anyone can petition the U.S. government, Department of Transportation, or the FAA to change a rule, cancel a rule, or make a rule. This power is found in Part 11, Section 11.61 of the FARs. All the guidance you need is there in the rule.
I then tell the audience I am not surprised that most mechanics are not aware of Part 11 because it is not included in the Part 147 aviation maintenance technician school required training curriculum and it is not one of the regulations called out on the A&P test.
Nice words O’Brien, but I don’t see it happening is the usual reply. But it is happening right now, I respond! PAMA just petitioned the FAA to change the IA renewal period from one year to two. It has a docket number and it has a good chance to be published as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking so the FAA can get public comments. This is a good beginning, but more work should be done. So to keep the ball rolling I then ask my disbelieving audience what other rules in Part 65 do you think we should change? This is what they came up with.
- Ref: IA renewal Section 65.43: What about giving 1 credit for each annual and/or a ½ credit for each major repair and major alteration for each 90 days you hold the IA. With the addition of the “and/or” in the rule you can mix or match annuals and 337s. Then as long as you get a total of 4 credits you can renew your IA.
- Ref: Section 65.95: Give 1 credit for IA renewal to IA for each inspection performed under 91.409 (e)(f) on large turbine-powered aircraft.
- Ref: Section 65.91: Grant relief either by rule or policy from the requirements to be “actively engaged within the last two years” to mechanics who could not renew their IA in the month of March because they were recovering from a long-term illness, on extended military duty, suffered an automobile accident, or going through a pregnancy.
- Ref: Section 65.81: What about allowing mechanics to overhaul wet compasses?
The audience started to drift into making changes to Part 43 and 91 as they became caught up with the idea that they could change their world. So to keep them on track I had to bring them back to Part 65 by asking them the question: “Well now what are you going to do about it?”
Hey O’Brien, says one self-proclaimed leader. We told you what has to be done, you work in Washington, you write rules and regulations all day long –- make it happen!
I am sorry my friend, I replied with a smile. You cannot delegate your job to me. You mistake me for someone who has the power to make change. Let me explain my job in Washington. I am a starter relay on the firewall. I can turn over the biggest starter you ever saw in your life and that in turn starts the biggest bureaucratic engine in the world. The engine is FAA Headquarters and it is a city block long, a city block wide, 10 stories high, and it can make magic happen in our aviation world. But like an aircraft engine this bureaucratic engine cannot start itself. Someone on the other side of the firewall has to turn the key. That someone is you; the key is Part 11, Section 11.61. You make it happen! You must change your own world! Think of it as “other duties as assigned.”