Who Wants to be DOM? There are some downsides

May 16, 2005
As those in the air carrier business know, FAA operations people must approve most management positions. FAR 135 and 121 are both covered with management job qualification requirements.

The case: The senior maintenance inspector at a small Part 135 air carrier, soon to be Part 121, was pleased when he was approached and asked to take on the duties of the director of maintenance (DOM). This was a step up for him and he thought that it could lead to bigger things. He immediately accepted. He had to qualify under the general requirements of the FAR and be approved by the operations inspector. He was approved on a temporary basis for the position. It did not last long however.

As those in the air carrier business know, FAA operations people must approve most management positions. FAR 135 and 121 are both covered with management job qualification requirements. Many times approval for the position can be probationary pending a review of qualifications and background. Most of the positions are considered temporary until some exposure to the position is completed. It is not rare for somebody in the job to be denied continued approval. This happened to a man who spoke with me recently. He believed that the FAA operations inspector did not care for his management style and so contrived a plan to deny him the position based on a lack of qualification. Unfortunately there is little that can be done under these circumstances. The man talked of suing somebody or taking the case "upstairs" to superiors in the FAA. I urged him to concentrate on the qualification issue at the local level and if not satisfied seek further review by way of a request for deviation from the rules. He was not a happy camper.

Deviation authority

The FAR provides for deviations from the strict qualification rules where a certificate holder requests one. When the candidate does not meet the airman experience requirements, or supervisory background he still can be appointed provided he has comparable experience and can effectively perform the functions of the position. So the man could have his company petition the manager of the Air Transportation Division in FAA headquarters to review his comparable qualifications.

Comparable means suitable for comparison; equivalent or similar. Needless to say, no matter how good the comparative experience, the FAA in Washington can still turn you down . . . there is no appeal. Even after approving a deviation the Administrator can, at any time, terminate a grant of deviation authority.

The part-time DOM

Many qualified technicians accept DOM positions at Part 135 certificate holders on a part-time basis and hold regular full-time positions with an FBO or repair station. You should consider an offer of this type with some careful scrutiny. There are several pitfalls attached. Firstly, and most importantly, you will have greater FAA certificate sanction exposure assuming you're approved for the position.

Consider the case of the DOM who works for a small air carrier. If the carrier's certificate should for some reason be suspended or revoked your employment prospects for the future may be affected. Take a look at FAR 135.13(b)1, 2: "The Administrator may deny any applicant a certificate under this Part if the Administrator finds (2) that a person who was employed in a similar position to . . . director of maintenance . . . or who has exercised control with respect to any ATCO operating certificate holder, air carrier, or commercial operator, whose operating certificate has been revoked, will be employed in any of those positions or a similar position, or will be in control of or have a substantial ownership interest in the applicant, and that person's employment or control contributed materially to the reasons for revoking that certificate."

The words are somewhat laborious but the gist is that if you are tainted by conduct that results in a sanction you will have difficulty finding employment with another air carrier as a DOM or serving in any other management position. The reason being that you could be responsible for a delay or denial in issuance of an air carrier certificate because of your tainted background.

Note that the key words are "contributed materially." The FAA usually has little difficulty connecting the principal's conduct to the reasons for any sanctions.

The source of the taint need not result in action against the DOM himself, in order to affect his or her ability to participate as a defined management person at another air carrier.

Case on point

A Part 135 operator's certificate was revoked. One of the reasons was that the boss was using aircraft in the operation that were not approved or listed in its operations specifications. Although the DOM had little control over the aircraft operated by his boss, he did supervise the maintenance on them mostly on a part-time basis. Because of this, the FAA would presume he was aware of the contents of the operation specifications and thus aware of the violations. By this reasoning he was deemed to be at fault.

When the FAA cited the man he claimed he had no knowledge of how the boss was using the aircraft in the fleet. The FAA simply said he was responsible for being aware of the aircraft being operated in violation of the specifications.

If the DOM knew of this apparent violation, it would have been wise to advise the boss via a written memo reminding him of the requirements of the specifications and the obvious danger in using unauthorized aircraft in the operation. Saving a dated file copy for future reference, if necessary, would be in order.

The knowledge of an apparent violation of the FAR doesn't mean that the DOM should go running to the FAA. Instead, he should be in position to state and prove that he used due diligence in attempting to correct the situation. Any failure to advise management of FAR violations would make it difficult to maintain that one was diligent in his duties to the company. You must document your position on a potential violation issue in order to show that you measured up to the responsibilities of the job. Keeping management advised of your findings involving FAR violations is part of the job. Doing it on a part-time basis is risky business.

Phantom DOM

Here is another example of taking a risk without adequate protection. Many privately owned light piston, turboprop, and jet aircraft are acquired and placed on an obliging operator's Part 135 operating certificate. Many times this is done to avoid a sales tax on the aircraft because of exemptions from the tax for air carrier aircraft used in air commerce. Of course there are rules requiring proof of commercial operations, along with the necessary records to support these activities. These certificate holders require a DOM and frequently can't afford one full time. The point is that many of these operators maintain only the appearance of an air carrier. Their support structure is weak and more to the point, some have a designated DOM who spends little or in some cases no time supervising maintenance operations. We call this person the phantom DOM. This person will usually have another full-time job at a FBO or repair facility and is a DOM in name only. This can be extremely risky business for you and your full-time employer.

When the DOM is not on the scene enough, things happen. They can be unaware of FAR violations that can sink the ship, and yet will be charged with knowledge of these irregularities based on the FARs and the operation's specifications of the carrier.

Be careful about performing these types of DOM functions without comprehensive liability protection. Evaluate your position and demand higher compensation, based on the risks involved.

Finally, if you are in the situation of the part-time director of maintenance you should clearly inform your full-time employer of your action. Your outside involvement could subject your full-time employer to some costly liability problems. Please forward your comments to . AMT
About the Author

Stephen P. Prentice

Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney with an Airframe and Powerplant certificate, is an ATP rated pilot, and is a USAF veteran. E-mail: [email protected].