FAA Feedback: The Rest of the Story

Whatever happened to the Designated Airworthiness Maintenance Inspector?

May/June issue of Aircraft Maintenance Technology

A year or so ago, I wrote an article about the ins and outs of getting an FAA Inspection Authorization. I referred to the IA in the article as a Silverback, an 800-pound maintenance gorilla who was a walking, talking, two-legged, repair station who was responsible for ensuring that the trust, responsibilities, and values of our profession are maintained at the highest levels of excellence.

Now I would like to fill you in on the rest of the story, a prequel, if you will, on how the IA came to be and the trust that the U.S. government has in them. To accomplish this little insight into who we are and where we came from we must go back in time — 59 years to be exact.

The year is 1938, the CAA Act was passed, and the brand spanking new Civil Aeronautics Agency (CAA) opened for business on Aug. 22, 1938. The new federal agency was responsible for the certification of private and commercial aircraft.

That same year, before the CAA was even out of its bureaucratic diapers, the fledgling regulatory agency was already on the receiving end of complaints from the National Association of State Aviation Organizations (NASAO). As a result of the upsurge in pilot training under the federally-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training Program, it seemed that all the CAA inspectors were being siphoned off from performing general aviation functions to support this pre-war pilot training program. Since a CAA inspector was responsible for inspecting and signing off all major repairs, owners of private and state-owned aircraft had to wait up to a year before an CAA inspector came out to check the repair to their aircraft and sign it off.

NASAO formally recommended to the CAA administrator to appoint civilian designees mechanics to do the work. The CAA reluctantly agreed, made a policy decision, and Designated Airworthiness Maintenance Inspectors (DAMI) were born. It is important to note that mechanics were the second designee the CAA created. The first designees were physicians who were allowed to conduct pilot flight physicals for a fee. Pilots did not join the designee ranks until 1941.

Despite the fact that a DAMI was now part of the CAA policy, very few DAMI certificates were issued during the war years because little civilian flying was allowed. However, with the war’s end the DAMI program finally took on official status on Jan. 15, 1946, when the DAMI was formally institutionalized in the Civil Air Rules. This major transformation from policy to rule was not due to any change of heart on the CAA reluctance to appoint designees in general but was directly due to massive CAA budget and personnel cuts enacted by the Truman administration after the war.

By June 30, 1948, there were 1,693 DAMI appointed. Each DAMI was appointed on a “need” basis by an individual CAA inspector. There was no test given and in many cases the CAA inspector’s decision was subjective, not objective in nature and some mistakes were made.

On Sept. 29, 1950, President Truman signed an amendment to the CAA Act which allowed DAMI to issue Airworthiness Certificates to general aviation (GA) aircraft every year. Now the DAMI could do everything a CAA inspector could do — except process violations of the Civil Air Rules (CAR). The DAMI was now considered by the GA industry as a 1,200-pound aviation maintenance gorilla.

The CAA issued DAMI certificates that were totally different than the 2 1/4- by 3 1/4-inch, buff-colored IA card that we stuff into our wallets today. The CAA DAMI certificate was big, 11 by 15 inches, printed on high quality paper, and mounted in a glass and wood frame that was supplied by the government.

The CAA was an agency that knew how to impress. The first words on the certificate were written in fancy English script stating: “Reposing special trust and confidence in the integrity, diligence, and discretion of (insert name) and finding that he has the necessary knowledge, skill, experience, and impartial judgment to merit special public responsibility. I (CAA inspector who signs the certificate) designated him as an Aviation safety Representative and authorize him to act as a Designated Aircraft Maintenance Inspector.”

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