Aircraft Imports: and the U.S. Standard Airworthiness Certificate

July 1, 2003

Aircraft Imports

And the U.S. Standard Airworthiness Certificate

Joe Hertzler

There are very specific issues to consider when you are the maintenance provider performing the import inspection or the owner of an aircraft being imported. This article will discuss the process of importing aircraft from other countries and the issuance or re-issuance of a U.S. Standard Airworthiness Certificate.

Classification of parts
First let's look at the FAA's product classification found in 14 CFR Part 21. 14 CFR Part 21.321 (b) contains the classifications used by the FAA for aviation products. The rule is really written for the purpose of exporting products from the United States to other countries and provides three separate classifications. A Class I product is defined as a complete aircraft, aircraft engine, or propeller. A Class II product is a major component of an aircraft, aircraft engine, or propeller, the failure of which would jeopardize the safety of a Class I product; or any part, material, or appliance, approved and manufactured under the TSO system in the "C" series. A Class III product is any part or component that is not a Class I or Class II product and includes standard parts. For the purposes of this article we will discuss the issues around the process of receiving back into country a Class I product - an aircraft.

Prove airworthiness
It seems simple. The only thing we need to do is demonstrate to the FAA (or a designee), by providing evidence (i.e. logbooks and other maintenance records) that the aircraft conforms to U.S. type design and is in a condition for safe operation. In order to issue the airworthiness certificate the FAA is required to make a "finding of conformity" (see 21.183(d)(3)). This finding of conformity is determined through a physical inspection of the aircraft as well as the inspection and maintenance records, including records substantiating the eligibility of parts being used on the aircraft, provided by the applicant seeking the airworthiness certificate. The applicant's evidence must show how the applicant determined conformity.

There are several different situations that can exist. For example, an aircraft can be manufactured in a different country, be originally certified and delivered in the United States, and then leave the United States for a period of time before seeking reentry. An aircraft can be manufactured in the United States, originally delivered to a foreign country, and then be seeking original entry into the United States. Or an aircraft can be manufactured in the United States, be originally certified in the United States and then leave the United States for a period of time and then seek reentry, just to name a few. I'm sure you can think of a few others. The point is each are seeking entry or reentry to the United States and each may be a different challenge all together dependent upon the country of the manufacturer and the country the aircraft is coming from. In some cases, the aircraft may have been in several different countries prior to seeking entry into the U.S. air transportation system, posing several challenges. And, in some cases where the aircraft's records don't include enough evidence to show that it conforms to U.S. type design, it just isn't practical to go through the process of obtaining a U.S. Standard Airworthiness Certificate. Bilateral airworthiness agreements To help in the process, the U.S. Department of State has worked to establish bilateral agreements with various countries. When an aircraft is coming into the United States from a country with which a bilateral agreement has been established, the exporting country can provide what is referred to as an Export Certificate of Airworthiness (C of A). An Export C of A is a document issued by the authorities (CAA) of the exporting country attesting to the condition of the aircraft. Specifically, the Export C of A is intended to attest that the aircraft conforms to the importing country's applicable requirements. For example, an Export C of A from Germany issued to an aircraft being exported to the United States is intended to certify that the aircraft conforms to U.S. type design. Because there are many different bilateral agreements with different countries, the Export C of A can be more meaningful from some countries than others.

An Export C of A, however, regardless of the country issuing it, does not automatically mean that the aircraft will be accepted in the United States. What we often see, is an aircraft owner who has made the purchase decision based on the Export C of A and consequently been stuck with modifications to the aircraft in order to issue that U.S. Airworthiness Certificate. The key is to, as simple as it seems, read the written detail of the Export C of A to find what the person signing the document is really certifying. If the exporting country issues a certification to the effect that the aircraft meets U.S. type design and is in a condition for safe operation, the FAA will honor the certification. As described earlier, the FAA (or a designee) will review the evidence presented (including the Export C of A) by the aircraft owner (applicant) seeking the U.S. Airworthiness Certificate. If the aircraft being imported does not come with a valid Export C of A then the FAA will evaluate that aircraft in accordance with 21.183(d)(2) and require that an inspection equivalent to a 100-hour inspection be performed by an appropriately rated person. In either case, if the FAA finds that the aircraft meets the conformity requirements "Conforms to Type Design" then it will issue a U.S. Airworthiness Certificate.

Foreign modifications
It should be no surprise if you find that an aircraft that has been operated in a foreign country has a slightly different configuration. This is because each individual country has its own approved type design as well. What this means is that in order for an aircraft manufactured to the U.S. type design to be operated in a foreign country, there may be some configuration changes that need to be made. One example that comes to mind is the Raytheon King Air B200 (reference sidebar on page 62). The B200's U.S. configuration places the electrical inverters in the wings. In order to operate that aircraft in the United Kingdom, the inverters must be relocated to a different location. The design approved in the United Kingdom prohibits the inverters from being located in the proximity of fuel lines and in the King Air B200 fuel lines run through the wings. This is just one example of a configuration change. There are actually several specific modifications required for the King Air B200, as an example, all of which can be incorporated by installing what Raytheon refers to as "a UK Kit." Information regarding configuration changes required for export can generally be found on the aircraft U.S. Type Certificate Data Sheet (TCDS). Sticking with the King Air B200 example, we'll look at the Type Certificate Data Sheet for that aircraft. Looking at the section titled "Data Pertinent to all Model 200 Series" we find the following:

"The following models when modified to the applicable Beech modification drawing, are eligible for operations as noted below:

"The above models are eligible for return to U.S. certification when those portions of the above listed modifications which do not comply with U.S. requirements have been removed or replaced."

So you see, the United Kingdom kit is really Beech Mod No. 101-005004. One important note here is the second statement. Aircraft can only return to U.S. certification when elements of the Mod not approved by U.S. design have been removed or replaced. What this means is that we must not make any assumptions about the Beech Mod for United Kingdom conformity being FAA approved. The question must be presented to Raytheon for resolution.

This King Air example is just one of several. Many TCDS list special conditions for the issuance of an Export C of A. The sidebar on the opposite page offers a few keys to remember when it comes to the import of an aircraft into the United States.


Keys to remember when importing an aircraft

  1. Determine what country the aircraft was manufactured in and what country the aircraft was originally certified in. If the aircraft was not originally certified in the United States it may never have conformed to U.S. type design.
  2. Trace through the records and find out if the aircraft has ever held a U.S. Airworthiness Certificate. If the aircraft has never been certificated in the United States, the FAA must issue the new U.S. Airworthiness Certificate (not a DAR).
  3. Look at the TCDS for the aircraft and find out if any special conditions exist for the country or countries the aircraft is coming from. This will provide a clue as to what may need to be removed or modified for U.S. certification.
  4. Find out if any portions of the required modifications are approved for U.S. certification. It may be that modifying the aircraft for U.S. certification is cost prohibitive.
  5. Find out what bilateral agreements are in place for the exporting country. Appendix 4 to Advisory Circular 21-23A includes a table listing all of the countries with which the United States has bilateral airworthiness agreements.
  6. Find out if the exporting country issued an Export C of A for the aircraft. If so get a copy and read it carefully. Make sure the certifying DAR or FAA inspector sees a copy as well. It may make their job easier.
  7. Review the maintenance records to find any major repairs or major alterations that may require FAA Form 337's be created to properly document the work.
  8. There are many foreign repair stations that have the authority under U.S. regulation to work on U.S. certificated aircraft, however, when the aircraft is under German registry for example, the aircraft will have been approved for return to service under the German rule not the United States. You may be able to go back to the repair agency and receive U.S. certification for previous work.

Joe Hertzler is the president of AVTRAK Inc., an Aurora, Colorado-based company. He is an A&P Mechanic with Inspection Authorization and also a Private Pilot.

Additional ReSources

Advisory Circular 21-23A
FAA Order 8130.2E
Advisory Circular 21-2J
14 CFR Part 21.183