Repair stations are closely regulated and monitored by the FAA. The agency requires air carriers to ensure that their contract maintenance and training programs, and the contractors themselves, fully comply with federal regulations. There are approximately 4,227 domestic and 694 foreign FAA-certified repair stations.
Tough FAA Standards for "Outsourced" Maintenance
Some air carriers contract out ("outsource") aircraft maintenance. For example, it may be more efficient to have an original manufacturer perform engine overhauls, repair of components or warranty work. Airlines must meet stringent FAA requirements if they rely on contract maintenance.
Air carriers have to ensure that all contractors follow the procedures specified in the air carrier's maintenance program. Air carriers must list all contractors on a vendor list; only substantial maintenance providers have to be approved in the air carrier’s operation specifications.
FAA must approve use of any non certificated contractor. The airline must show that the provider has the capability, organization, facilities and equipment to perform the work.
Eyes on Repair Stations
Both the air carrier and the FAA inspect work done at repair stations. The air carrier conducts oversight through its Continuing Analysis and Surveillance System, which requires audits of the facilities working on the carrier's aircraft.
The FAA does at least one comprehensive, in-depth inspection every year at each repair station inside the United States. The inspection requirement comes from the National Work Program Guidelines (NPG) order issued annually, and is based on risk analysis of results from the previous year's surveillance. The NPG establishes a base level of surveillance data that should be evaluated, including areas such as facilities, maintenance processes, technical data and training programs.
FAA inspectors perform on-site visits and review air carrier audits. An FAA inspector is not required to give notice prior to an inspection. But as a practical matter, the repair station may be notified to ensure the right people are available and any necessary coordination between the repair station and remote facilities or contractors is accomplished.
FAA inspectors have comprehensive guidance for checking each of 15 safety areas. As each area is inspected, an assessment is recorded in a national database. The FAA uses the assessments to retarget resources and develop the following year's inspection program.
The inspector presents any issues found to the repair station informally during a briefing prior to leaving the facility. A formal letter of findings follows, and the FAA may start enforcement actions for violations of regulations.
Oversight of Foreign Repair Stations
Many U.S. air carriers rely on foreign repair stations outside the United States for at least some of their maintenance. These facilities are certified annually by the FAA, and a repair station may lose its certificate if it does not comply with FAA requirements.
The agency only certifies the number of foreign repair stations it can effectively monitor. Oversight is conducted by FAA inspectors assigned to International Field Offices in London, Frankfurt, Singapore, New York, Miami, Dallas and San Francisco.
FAA standards for foreign and domestic repair stations are the same. Just as for domestic repair stations, the FAA conducts at least one comprehensive, in-depth inspection annually for renewal of the repair station's certificate. The FAA notifies a repair station prior to an inspection to meet the repair station's security requirements, make sure the appropriate personnel are available, and allow the facility to do any needed coordination with remote work sites or contractors. The agency also notifies the appropriate U.S. embassy and the country's national aviation authority.
Using risk analysis tools, FAA inspectors identify potential safety hazards and target inspection efforts on areas of greatest risk. During the inspection, the FAA verifies that the facility and personnel are qualified to perform the maintenance functions requested by the air carrier or listed in their operations specifications. The entire inspection is done during a single visit; the size and complexity of the repair station may require several days and several inspectors to complete the work.
The United States has country-to-country Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreements with France, Germany and Ireland. These agreements eliminate duplicate efforts by the FAA and the national aviation authorities, and specify that each authority perform certification and surveillance activities on behalf of the other. The FAA audits these national aviation authorities, reviews their inspector guidance materials, inspector staffing levels and training programs, and performs joint repair station audits with the authorities’ inspectors. Under these agreements, the FAA conducts sample inspections of repair stations located in these countries. In FY 2006 the FAA performed sampling inspections at 21 percent (35) of the 165 affected repair stations.