Ramping Up for the New 145
Public meeting presentations
The FAA and industry have been working hard for more than 15 years to perfect the re-write to the rule governing the certification and operation of repair stations. The rule is completed now, and after much anticipation and a few delays is scheduled to become effective in October of this year.
In an effort to ensure uniform enforcement by the FAA of the new rule, the FAA continues to work with industry organizations (NATA, AEA, and others) to get the word out by holding public meetings at several locations across the country as well as internationally. These meetings break new ground in that both FAA personnel from various field offices and members of industry are encouraged to attend.
I was fortunate to be able to attend the meeting in Las Vegas (May 16, 2003). Through this article I will relay important points so that if you were not able to attend one of the meetings you will at least have some exposure to how the rule will impact your business and your day-to-day routine as a certificated repair station. The schedule of remaining meetings can be found at the AEA web site at www.aea.net
A big concern of the industry is the requirement from the new rule to write a new manual or manuals. The FAA has written an Advisory Circular (AC 145-9, "Guide for Developing and Evaluating Repair Station and Quality Control Manuals," published on July 3, 2003) to provide industry with a standard message on the regulation's intent and guidance for writing new manuals as well as complying with the new rule.
New repair station manual(s)
The FAA was very clear that it does not want to see canned or copied statements in our new manuals. The new manuals are to describe our procedures and systems and should not just be copies of the examples in the advisory circular. Headquarters is giving clear guidance to the field inspectors to make sure the new manuals really reflect what the repair station is doing and how.
The new rule can also lead to the misconception that we must have both a repair station manual and a quality control manual. FAA headquarters has taken the position that combining all manuals is acceptable including JAA and ISO required manuals. It must be clear however what sections of the manual are required by the FAA and what sections address the requirements of the other organizations. Because repair stations vary in size, it may make sense for the larger repair stations to use separate manuals.
A fundamental change in FAA policy that came out of the meeting is this, revisions to the manuals required to hold a repair station certification need not be accepted prior to implementation. What does this mean? Well, we have to make revisions to our written procedures when we change how we conduct our work, but the actual process can change prior to receiving written acceptance from the FAA. This sounds good, and I think it is good, but don't be fooled. If we start to follow a procedure that puts us in violation of a rule before the FAA has accepted the revision we are still in violation. Additionally, if a rule does not apply to our operation we do not need to address it within our manual. And finally, we may need to have procedures within our manuals that have no regulatory basis at all, such as descriptions of nonregulated tasks that sort of fill in the gaps between regulated tasks.
Following a detailed review of our new manuals, our FAA inspector must provide in writing a regulatory reason for any nonacceptance. It holds the inspectors accountable for their decisions. This will provide a more efficient way for us to make sure all required changes are incorporated without having to go back and forth with our local inspector a hundred times.
Equipment and tooling
Under the old rule, in order to obtain a repair station certificate, all of the tools required to obtain the rating we applied for had to be available on-site during the certification inspection conducted by the FAA. Under the new rule there is a significant change. We will be required to have the tools and equipment necessary to perform the work on-site, only when the work is being performed. Instead of having to purchase the expensive tools that are seldom used we can now enter into a contract with another party who can provide the tool or piece of equipment. We will need to show the FAA a valid lease agreement or contract for required tools that will be handled under a contract rather than purchased during certification or when adding a rating. In addition we will need to include procedures in our manual on how we will receive the leased tools or equipment, how we will ensure calibration (if it needs a calibration check after transport), and how personnel will be trained to use the tooling.
The use of the capability list is another by-product of the new rule. The only repair stations that can use a capability list are those who hold a Limited Rating. It's the capability list that defines the limitation of the Limited Rating. For example, if we hold a limited airframe rating for Hawker 800XP and Falcon 50EX we are limited to those two aircraft. Under the current rule those models are listed on the operation specification issued by the FAA. In order to issue that operation specification the FAA must validate our capability prior to adding it to the list on the operation specification. Under the new rule we have another option. If we choose to we can develop a procedure that demonstrates to the FAA that we can validate our own capability. We must develop a procedure that when followed will verify that all required elements (personnel, training, manuals, tools and equipment, etc.) are in place to add a new model. Then we will be able to add the model ourselves to a capability list that we keep separate from the operation specification. Such capability lists can be kept in the repair station manual or in a separate document.
Work performed away from station
There are really two scenarios in which work can be performed away from the physical location of the repair station under the new rule: either on an as-needed basis or a recurring basis. When it's not a regular occurrence we don't need any procedures in the manual to cover it. However, we must receive written approval for each occurrence. When work away from the station is a regular occurrence we must include procedures in our manual that detail how quality is maintained. And then if those procedures can be followed, FAA approval is not needed for each occurrence. The area that the FAA is sensitive about is when companies may attempt to set up a semi-permanent second location and perform the work under the home repair station without obtaining an additional certificate. To prevent that, the FAA has made it clear that permanently placing tools, equipment, and personnel at another location is prohibited without obtaining a repair station or satellite repair station certification.
Contracted maintenance functions
Under the current rule Part 145 Appendix A lists the functions that a repair station must be capable of performing. Those items with an asterisk * may be contracted out to capable vendors. The new rule is quite different. We can still contract out maintenance functions but we are not limited to Appendix A's list. We must develop a procedure in our manual that describes how to maintain and revise the contractor information. The contractor information must include the name of the provider, the approved maintenance functions it is contracted to perform, and the type of certificate and ratings held by the contractor. The rule also states that we as the contracting repair station must remain directly in charge of all maintenance being performed by contractors. I still think that there is a bit of an issue here. We can contract out to another certificated organization and if we do we are required to be directly in charge of the maintenance they are doing under contract with us. However, they must also be directly in charge of all of the maintenance they perform in order to be able to approve it for return to service. For those contractors who are noncertificated we have to have procedures that ensure the vendor has an equivalent quality system for the work being performed on our behalf. In addition, for noncertificated vendors, our contract with them must allow for FAA inspections and observation of work being performed on our behalf.
A final version of the new Advisory Circular (AC145-9) is available at www.faa.gov.
If you own or manage a certificated repair station I suggest you get started as soon as possible in reviewing the AC and implementing the changes. NATA, AEA, and ARSA have jointly petitioned the FAA for another extension to the October implementation, the results of which are yet to be determined. All in all we believe the changes will benefit the industry and the FAA. There will likely be some rough spots but we are impressed by the FAA's efforts to work with the industry to get the word out and begin to standardize within their ranks and attempt to level the playing field. An effort we think is well overdue.
Joe Hertzler is the president of AVTRAK Inc., Aurora, Colorado. He is an A&P mechanic with inspection authorization and also a private pilot.