"I certify . . . or do I?"
By Stephen P. Prentice
FAR 65.92(a) Inspection Authorization:
". . . the holder of an inspection authorization may exercise the privileges of that authorization only when he holds a currently effective mechanic certificate with both a currently effective airframe rating and a currently effective powerplant rating."
I had a call the other day from a technician who also held inspection authorization authority. He said that he had called the local FSDO inspector and wanted to know if he could use his IA when his A&P certificate was suspended, even for a brief period of time (i.e. 30 days). The inspector said he was not positive on the question but that he would look up the controling FAR. We don't know if the inspector ever got back to the airman but this is what happened later on.
The airman told me he was now concerned because he had his A&P suspended for a minor infraction (30 days). During this time he inadvertently (if that's possible) signed off on an annual inspection but stated also that he did not exercise the privileges of his A&P. (He thought this was significant.) The date of the annual inspection should have been after the 30 days had passed. Unfortunately for him it was not. A minor point but a significant error on his part. He simply felt that so long as he was not "using" his A&P he could still legally perform the "inspection." Not true. Certainly a violation, but was the inspection still valid? If a crash occurred was the aircraft airworthy or out of license? We'll leave that question for another time.
The FAA inspection
The FAA shortly thereafter was inspecting the facility where the man worked and as usual started checking all the paperwork at this flight school. It soon came to light that the airman who had his ticket suspended had signed off on an annual inspection during the time his A&P was suspended. Unfortunately it was the same FSDO inspector (who had been asked the question previously) who did the inspection.
Well, the inspector did not ask for any mitigating information from the man and simply sent the apparent violation on to the regional counsel's office for further action.
As noted above, FAR 65.92(a) sets out the rule very clearly. But the airman pointed out that 65.92(b) tends to confuse the issue and he thought this was some kind of defense for him in this case. No such luck.
FAR 65.92(b) states that an inspection authorization ceases to be effective . . .
(1) . . . when it is surrendered, suspended, or revoked
(2) . . . no fixed base of operations exists . . .
(3) . . . no longer has equipment, facilities . . .
This part of the regulation states that an inspection authorization ceases to be effective on the occurrence of specific events. It says, among other things, that it becomes ineffective when surrendered, suspended or revoked. Other events are mentioned, but none include any specific reference to the suspension of the A&P certificate.
The airman maintained that since the section clearly sets out how the authorization ceases to be effective, failure to include in this subsection the requirement of having a valid A&P should mean that he could continue to use his inspection authorization while his A&P was suspended. And all this regardless of what subsection (a) said. Nice try. The argument fell on deaf ears although I thought it was a good try. It was not the first time however that it had been used as an explanation for the use of the IA privilege under similar circumstances.
Some might try to also make an analogy to a flight instructor's ability to continue instructing without a valid medical certificate. Sort of similar but no cigar . . .
Any ignorance of a regulation is no excuse in the eyes of the FAA. You are charged with knowing and complying with the FAR's that pertain to your function. Furthermore, the lack of any intent to violate the regulation is no excuse. But, intent is an important factor in regard to sanctions for the violation.
The NTSB hearing
Of course this case ultimately went to hearing before an administrative law judge for the NTSB. The judge in the case was convinced that the airman's act was inadvertent and nonintentional. The fact that he had asked for a ruling on the question also supported him in seeking a reduced sanction.
We have to also keep in mind that a single incident of regulatory noncompliance may compel a finding that a certificate holder (it's not a license) lacks the qualification to hold that certificate. Further, it's important to remember that a violation that involves your qualification to hold your certificate will result in emergency revocation of your ticket every time! In order to relate a violation to a qualification issue the FAA must have facts that would amount to a gross indifference to the requirements of air safety, as was stated by a judge in a similar case. That's the standard that will be followed.
The judge in this case felt that there must be some confusion among technicians in the field on this subject. After all, the inspector initially was not sure of the answer to the question. He could have read section 65.92(b) by itself and concluded that the IA certificate was valid since having a valid A&P was not included in the list.
The law judge found that the airman's violation of FAR 65.92(a) was unintentional, and the FAA did not dispute the finding. However, the FAA still held out for a revocation even though there was a finding of no intent. They failed to cite any authority for their position. They contended that revocation was required because the airman here had deliberately performed an annual inspection knowing there might be some question as to the validity of his IA authority. The judge did not agree. He stated that it was deliberate violations, and not deliberate actions that should raise questions about qualifications. Further, there was no support for the position of the FAA that ignorance of the rule always amounts to contempt or disdain for the regulations sufficient to revoke a certificate.
Another point made was that the 30-day suspension letter suspending the A&P certificate and causing the problem in the first place, did not specifically include the suspension of his inspection authorization. This would have made things much clearer. The airman could conclude that since the suspension order did not say anything about his IA authority he could continue to use it so long as he did not use his A&P in the process. Logical?
It is important to remember that revocation of a certificate is mandated in all cases where, for example, a pilot operates an aircraft when his certificate is suspended. Likewise, if the technician herein had exercised the privileges of his A&P while it was suspended, he would have been subject to summary revocation of his ticket. Generally, all cases of revocations include willful violations of the regulations. Revocations are very painful for any airman and they usually involve flagrant conduct. They are tough to deal with, much less defend.
Common sense prevailed
Fortunately, in this case the judge had the foresight to apply common sense and a rather simple solution to what in reality was nothing but an infraction.
The final result was his A&P and IA were both suspended for an additional 60 days. Better than a revocation any day. Your comments to email@example.com are always welcome.
Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an Airframe and Powerplant certificate and is an ATP rated pilot. He worked with Western Airlines and the Allison Division of GMC in Latin America, servicing commercial and military overhaul activities and is a USAF veteran. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
§Part 65.92. Inspection authorization: Duration.
(a) Each inspection authorization expires on March 31 of each year. However, the holder may exercise the privileges of that authorization only while he holds a currently effective mechanic certificate with both a currently effective airframe rating and a currently effective powerplant rating.
(b) An inspection authorization ceases to be effective whenever any of the following occurs:
(1) The authorization is surrendered, suspended, or revoked.
(2) The holder no longer has a fixed base of operation.
(3) The holder no longer has the equipment, facilities, and inspection data required by §65.91(c) (3) and (4) for issuance of his authorization.
(c) The holder of an inspection authorization that is suspended or revoked shall, upon the Administrator's request, return it to the Administrator.
[Doc. No. 12537, 42 FR 46279, Sept. 15, 1977]