How To Get Your IA

Oct. 12, 2023
Obtaining an inspection authorization (IA) is a great way for mechanics to broaden their horizons and advance their careers.

Typically, having an IA will lead to an increase in pay. But Colby Barron, Aviation Safety Inspector, Safety Standards, Aircraft Maintenance Division, Airmen Section, FAA, said that's not the only benefit.    

“It broadens your scope of experience and scope of ability. It just gives a whole different perspective, particularly in the general aviation realm. Being able sign off on those major repairs and alterations and the annual inspections, that's a big feather in most mechanics' cap,” he continued.

Per the FAA, IA holders may inspect and approve for return to service any aircraft or related part or appliance after a major repair or major alteration, except aircraft maintained in accordance with a continuous airworthiness program under Part 121. They also perform annual inspections and supervise progressive inspections.

“Probably the most common thing that IAs do is annual inspections,” said Barron. “That’s about it, above and beyond what an AMP can do – the major repairs and alterations and the annuals. In the GA or general aviation world, that’s the whole meat of being an IA.”    

How To Get an IA

Potential IA applicants must hold an effective mechanic certificate with both an airframe rating and a powerplant rating and have had them for at least 36 months. “It can be spread out over however long, but 36 months as a mechanic. But for the 24 months immediately preceding when you apply to be an IA, you have to be actively engaged on maintaining aircraft using the privileges of your A&P,” added Barron.

For mechanics who qualify, the next step is to contact their local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) to set up an appointment with an Aviation Safety Inspector. Different offices may differ in how they handle the interview, said Barron, adding some may do a prescreen phone interview.

When the mechanic is found to be eligible for the IA, they complete FAA Form 8610-1. That form, once signed by an aviation safety inspector, authorizes the mechanic to take "the written test," which takes three hours.

“It’s a computerized, 50-question, multiple choice test, open book. The testing center provides all the reference material for the test,” explained Barron.    

The Test

Mechanics have 30 days after Form 8610-1 is signed to complete the test.

“If that 30 days expires, then they need to come back and do it all over again. Because of that actively engaged, during those 24 months, we want to make sure there’s not a gap in that,” said Barron.

If a mechanic fails the test, they will have to wait 90 days then repeat the process. If they pass the written test, they bring the test results back to the FSDO who will issue them an IA card on the spot.   

Tests are taken at specific testing centers. Barron said most FSDO geographic areas will have at least one testing center in their area that provides the test.

The test questions come from a large database that generates the questions at random for each test.

Barron said typically, questions aren’t going to be basic mechanic questions. Instead, the questions might involve interpreting regulations, type certificate data sheets, weight and balance, inspection topics, etc.

Previously, Barron was an aviation safety inspector at an FSDO. He said, "what I always told applicants was, 'the most important thing they need to know is where to find the information and how to interpret it.' Because when they go to test, they get a big old binder, a 3-inch binder full of all the different reference material.

“If they just have a general idea of where information is contained, what regulation applies to inspections, which one applies to parts, those types of things, where they can flip through that reference material and find the answer. That’s what we expect of IAs, is for them to be able to find and interpret data and information. We don’t expect them to have all of it memorized. There’s far too much."

From start to finish, the entire process goes quickly if a mechanic is ready to take the test. Sometimes, Barron said, a mechanic may want to utilize the 30 days they have to study for the IA test, but in his experience, most usually study before they get signed off for the test.

“Most FSDOs, and their workloads, are going to vary all over the country for the different offices, but typically a FSDO can get applicants in pretty quick for both the sign-off and when they come back after a pass to get them their card,” said Barron. “The process of actually issuing it, once they come back with the completed test results, it’s literally a matter of typing out the information on the card and giving it to them.”     

IA Renewal

An IA is good for two years, or cycles, which always start on April 1 of odd years.

“This year, 2023, April 1 was day one of the IA cycle. It runs for 24 months from there, so March 31 of 2025 will be the last day of the two-year cycle,” said Barron.

In between cycles, there are requirements that must be met to keep the IA. Each year, IA holders have to do one of five things: four annual inspections, eight major repairs or alterations (a combination of those two), one complete progressive inspection, eight hours of training approved for IA renewal, or an oral test given by an aviation safety inspector at an FSDO.

“They have to do that for each year, but you only show the proof of it at the end of the second," he said.

Renewals are done by mail, email, in person or The Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA). Barron said pilots have been using IACRA for many years, but the FAA fairly recently started getting mechanics involved with it too.

“That’s actually what we encourage people to do. It’s all online, everything, every bit of it they do, they submit there. The aviation safety inspectors review it and approve or deny. Then a renewal letter is issued straight out of the system," he said.

Barron said he always encourages people to get an IA if it’s something that they’re comfortable with.

“The more we have, the better. The more qualified and capable and eager mechanics, those that want to do better and want to make more out of their career, that’s highly encouraging,” he said.