We’ll Allow It

Feb. 17, 2022

In 2018, ARSA gathered its industry allies and jointly engaged the FAA on “guidance for using remote connectivity technology and tools.”

The move was the result of some association members making progress instituting remote tools but facing government pushback. Bureaucratic hand wringing aside, the matter rests on one of ARSA’s fundamental principles in regulatory compliance:

“If it’s not prohibited, it’s allowed.”

In absence of specific regulatory prohibitions against the use of remote connection, the door is open for inventive implementation by industry. Four years ago, making that case took the form of a draft advisory circular establishing general requirements for set up and use of tools and equipment. The elements outlined in the document were to assist users in ensuring “the same level of acumen and capability [through remote connection] as if the oversight, inspection, test or training task or activity was conducted on-premises.” Within a few months, the FAA concurred with the industry’s interests and promised explanatory guidance in short order.

Of course, “short order” is a relative measurement. Follow through was still lacking when the pandemic descended on aviation in 2020; the crisis offered pressure for the agency to get busy. In March of that year, the White House issued a memorandum directing government agencies to realign operations to slow the spread of the virus. Agency leaders were instructed to “utilize the full extent of their legal authority and discretion to execute this realignment” and to “maximize telework…while maintaining mission-critical workforce needs.”

ARSA seized on that direction to remind the industry and agency about the work both had done on remote connectivity. On March 31, the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service issued its policy (as promised, albeit a year late) and Flight Standards followed on April 22 with a memorandum to its employees about “Video and Communication Technology.” Flight Standards made clear that using such tools was allowable under the current aviation safety rules:

“Current FS Orders and [FAA] regulations do not prohibit FS or industry use of VCT in fulfilling the requirements, and no specific guidance is necessary to enable its use. When evaluating an applicant, certificate holder’s or designee’s procedures to use VCT, or when evaluating your own use of VCT, aviation safety inspectors (ASIs) should apply critical thinking and interdependence to foster consistent decisions for proper use of VCT.” (Emphasis added.)

The AFX memo is not prescriptive regarding “proper use,” but instead provides a series of questions and considerations for both government and industry to consider when applying remote connectivity resources for both live and recorded/asynchronous uses. Though presented differently, these guidelines reflect the baseline standards proposed by ARSA and its industry partners in 2018, focusing on task accomplishment in situations where necessary “coverage and content” is sufficient to complete the relevant activity using remote tools.

You can find and review both FAA policies – along with the industry’s work to shape them – at arsa.org/remote-connectivity. The bottom line is the agency openly acknowledged the use of any technology that achieves the purpose of the regulation can and will be part of an application or showing of compliance.

Two years beyond that rapid series of events, it’s time to ask: How’s it going? We learned in 2020 that a considerable portion of the industry was already out ahead of the regulators, exploring functional use of audio/visual tools for running inspections and oversight even as the FAA fretted about how to handle the possibility.

Take a moment and share with ARSA (via arsa.org/contact) if/how your company utilizes remote connectivity. What tools? How do you manage systems? What experience have you had with your regulators (in the FAA or from elsewhere)? Is the baseline guidance provided in the industry’s AC useful?

Taking the next step, what other practices could you take advantage of by pressing for capabilities not explicitly prohibited?

Make your case and put it in the context of the rules and we’ll allow it (and if the FAA doesn’t, we might be able to help).

Brett Levanto is vice president of operations of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein, P.L.C. managing firm and client communications in conjunction with regulatory and legislative policy initiatives. He provides strategic and logistical support for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association.
About the Author

Brett Levanto

Brett Levanto is vice president operation for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA). He graduated from the George Washington University in 2004 and earned a Master of Public Policy from the College of William and Mary in 2009. For more information visit www.arsa.org.