Staying Legal: IAs Get Ready for March 31, 2013

Oct. 26, 2012
New policy rules will be in effect

Most technicians with Inspection Authority should know by now that the two-year long controversy regarding IA renewal procedures has been finalized. After receiving almost one thousand comments from technicians in the field, Flight Standards was forced to make serious revisions to its proposed policy change. The new “guidance” for FAA safety inspectors (ASIs) and aviation safety technicians (ASTs) has finally been published in what is now called the Flight Standards Information Management Systems (FSIMS) cited as Order 8900.1 Chg. 211, (Vol. 5 Section 8 and Section 7), or better yet, commonly known as the Inspectors Guidance Manual.

This is the bible that is an interpretation of the regulations for use by the inspectors. Up until the last renewal period (March 31, 2009 – March 31, 2011) , the old policy applied … the period of 2011-2012 and renewal on March 31, 2013 starts the application of the so-called new policy interpretation of the regulation and guidance for FAR 65.91c(1) thru (4).

This policy guidance was published and released May 13, 2012, and this writer reviewed his copy during this past August. This timing raises a question of whether or not this revised policy can apply to the past two years … the guidance was not published until May 2012 … does it apply retroactively to the past two years rather than the upcoming two years? Some have questioned this application. Can the policy change apply to a period of time when it was not in existence in the guidance manual, notwithstanding the arbitrary policy effective date published in the Federal Register of Sept. 6, 2011?

The new guidance Section 8 of Vol. 5 Chapter 5 is the part that describes the Renewal of Inspection Authorization. Interestingly however, it refers you to Section 7 (Initial Application for IA authority) for further instruction: 5-1309:

Renewal of IA: 1) Show evidence and/or the applicant’s ability to meet the requirements of FAR 65,91(c) (1) through (4). Note: Refer to Volume 5, Chapter 5, Section 7, subparagraphs 5-1279A through C for additional information on meeting 65.91(c)1 through (4) requirements during renewals to include actively engaged guidance.

Note: Refresher training attendance alone does not satisfy those requirements.

The key element that is focused on in this new policy is the actively engaged part of the requirements for initial issuance of inspection authority.

Somehow, after all the years that IA authority has been in existence, the wizards at Flight Standards in Washington have decided that there should be the same requirement for active engagement in work in both instances, i.e. initial issuance and renewal. (Even though regulation seems to support it). The reasoning given for all this concern is …”it has caused confusion among ASIs and aircraft maintenance …” We have never found any confusion from any of the technicians we have talked with, however.

Most of the complaints came from IAs who have been in the business for many years and have either moved up the ladder or reduced their hands-on mechanic work as they grew older. (All of these complaints can be read on the web.) They may have left maintenance as such and did nothing but inspection work which is, needless to say, the function of a mechanic in the first place. Whether or not he actually turns a wrench, IAs are inspectors first and foremost.

Inspectors in industry and indeed in the military are just that, inspectors. I can remember in the USAF we mechanics were in awe of the inspectors because of their power to create more work for us. The inspector was never expected to do mechanic work and at the same time be an inspector.  

The FAA has made broad provision for many of these circumstances in its revised policy statement however, and others as noted in the Federal Register and the new guidance cited below.

New renewal requirements

There are basically two requirements now for renewal:

  1. You must complete one of the four classic ways to renew, i.e. oral exam, four annuals, eight 337s, or attendance at eight-hour seminar. Yes, the eight-hour seminar is still one of the four ways to renew.
  2. The change is simply that you now must also meet the actively engaged part (that is part of the initial application requirements.) For more than 25 years this has never been a requirement to my knowledge. No renewal applicant has ever been asked for proof that he has done mechanic work in addition to inspection work. This is the new policy change. Go figure. 

FAA definition of actively engaged

“Actively engaged means having an active role in exercising the privileges of an A&P mechanic certificate in the maintenance of civil aircraft. Applicants who inspect, overhaul, repair, preserve, or replace parts on aircraft, or who supervise  i.e., direct and inspect those activities, are actively engaged. The ASI may use evidence or documentation provided by the applicant showing inspection, overhaul, repair, preservation, or replacement of parts on aircraft or supervision of these activities.”         

Many senior IAs assist the smaller segments of the maintenance business … will they now be forced to spend time turning wrenches … sheer nonsense! Again, they are inspectors, they inspect.

Other significant parts of the ASI guidance manual 

In addition, special attention is to be given to the volume of work that you perform …according to the guidance, it says: “... the volume of work performed or quantity of maintenance work activity demonstrates if the applicant (for renewal) was actively engaged …”

Again, we should note that this is “guidance” not regulation. No where in the history of IA renewal, or regulation, is volume of work mentioned as a demonstration of actively engaged (that’s the reason there was a reference back to the initial requirements to find it). As a matter of fact, the contrary is clearly stated in the Federal Register.

Before this change was effective the policy was well discussed in the description of the proposed change.

In the Federal Register Vol. 76, No. 150, for Thursday, August 4, 2011 Rules and Regulations page 47059, it says rather clearly … “the FAA values the substantive nature of experience rather than a strict quantity formula …” This means what it says … substance rather than volume prevails …

And, the Register goes on to state … expanding on actively engaged … “The FAA agrees that supervision of maintenance activities provides the same sort of experience that the actively engaged requirement was intended to require. For that reason, the FAA will include technical supervision and supervision in an executive capacity on either full-time, part-time, or occasional basis in the definition of actively engaged. A technical instructor or a Part 147 school instructor may maintain aircraft or supervise the maintenance of aircraft in addition to instruction, in which case the instruction could be considered actively engaged depending on the activity demonstrated.

Also, procedures in the Guidance at 5-1312 Part B restrict aviation safety technicians (ASTs) and prohibit them from signing off anyone who is renewing based on the eight hours seminar attendance. That person must be renewed by an aviation safety inspector (ASI).

“An aviation safety technician (AST) not holding an A&P mechanic certificate may renew an IA and sign form 8610-1 block 14 only when the IA has been determined to have met 65.91 and 65.93 (a)(1), (2) or (3) eligibility based on activity for the first and second years. Refer all other IA renewal eligibilities based on oral test or training attendance (eight-hour seminar) to an ASI for determination and Form 8610-1 block 1-14 authorizations. The AST authority with reference to an IA is limited to renewals only and further limited to renewal based solely on activity for both the first and second years.”

There seems little doubt that the FAA is attempting to discourage renewal by the use of the eight-hour seminar. It apparently will now give greater scrutiny to one who is renewing by way of a seminar.

Many in the trade have seen this two-year effort on the part of Flight Standards as a colossal waste of money and other resources to effectuate some sort of policy that was not needed and indeed serves no useful purpose, except of course to discourage some senior IAs to pack it in, which may have been the purpose in the first place, otherwise why have the FSDO sponsored IA renewal seminars quietly disappeared? 

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 is a USAF veteran. Send comments to [email protected].

About the Author

Stephen P. Prentice