Coming Soon to a New Regulation Near You
Discussion of AIR-21 — The Aviation Investment & Reform Act for the 21st Century
By Thomas A. Brown
After almost 10 years, it's finally done! By now, most of the hype and hyperbole for AIR-21 have faded into political history. AIR-21, or more commonly known in Congressional circles as the "Aviation Investment & Reform Act for the 21st Century," certainly brought much-needed attention to the fiscal demands of our collective industry. Over the past two years, as it wound its way through the halls of Congress, most attention was focused on the spending aspects of this bill. Most interested parties hailed the mandatory release of essential trust funds vital to the continued successful operations of the airport and ATC systems. Lesser known parts of the bill, however, contained some very interesting sections.
The Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) is involved almost exclusively in the regulatory aspects of our maintenance industry. The board of directors has reaffirmed year after year that attentive and expert involvement with the FAA, or other governmental entities worldwide that promulgate regulations, is necessary and vital. The actions of these entities produce results that affect the operation and success of our Repair Station community. Monitoring these activities is the priority of ARSA and it is this commitment that brings to focus many of the lesser known sections of AIR-21.
House special: H.R. 1000
The House portion of this $40 billion bill, called H.R.1000, is more commonly known in Congressional circles as the "Wendell Ford Aviation Investment & Reform Act." While most think this bill deals exclusively with the operational aspects of the US commercial aviation industry, many sections deal with maintenance issues that are the daily subject of most Repair Stations. Various sections of the bill address wildlife hazard mitigation, accommodating tilt-rotor aircraft, providing land exchanges for forts and air bases, emergency FAA-approved call boxes, construction of new landfills, free flight, and providing fire fighting aircraft.
Life-limited aircraft parts
Section 504 addresses life-limited aircraft parts. A new Rulemaking proceeding is to be conducted that requires the safe disposition of all life-limited parts removed from aircraft. The only safe disposition provided is (a) absolute permanent segregation, (b) permanent marking to indicate useful life status, (c) destruction to prevent reinstallation, (d) marked in such a manner that it can be updated with new usage information, and (e) any other method approved by the Administrator. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is mandatory 180 days after the enactment of this bill, and a Final Rule is mandatory within 180 days of the close of the comment period. This new rule will not affect any prior removed life-limited parts. Additionally, it will not affect the installation of any otherwise airworthy life-limited parts.
Similar to the life-limited parts, Section 505 addresses counterfeit aircraft parts. This section denies the issuance of a certificate to any person who is convicted of a violation of law relating to counterfeit parts. This is also applicable to anyone who desires to have a controlling interest in a repair station. Should a conviction occur during ownership or controlling interest, the Administrator can initiate certificate revocation proceedings. Interestingly, a waiver may be granted to stay the above actions if the government so requests or if it will facilitate law enforcement efforts. Additionally, employment by certificate holders is prohibited to any person who also has been convicted of dealing in counterfeit parts.
A sub-act is contained in Section 506 entitled the "Aircraft Safety Act of 2000" and addresses fraud involving aircraft or space vehicle parts in interstate commerce. Section 506 is one of the most serious amendments contained within H.R. 1000. It provides for criminal penalties beginning with the violation of the aircraft quality of a part that would bring up to a $500,000 fine and not more than 15 years imprisonment, and extends to the failure of a part that does not operate as represented, resulting in death, that would bring fines up to $1 million and the death penalty. If an organization is involved in these frauds, the fines could reach between $10 million and $20 million for the offense. This section also extends beyond the territory of the United States if the person involved was a natural or resident alien, and/or the aircraft or spacecraft was owned by a United States citizen or organization.
Unlike the extensive and serious previous sub-act, Section 507 briefly addresses the transportation of hazardous material and the knowledge by individuals of certain regulations. Similarly, Section 517 calls for a partnership between industry and labor to improve methods of training and certification for A&P licenses.
Whistle blower program
Section 519 readdresses the Whistle Blower Protection Program and expands it to employees, contractors, or subcontractors of air carriers who provide air safety information to the Federal government. It provides Department of Labor due process for any persons who believe they have been discriminated against or terminated while providing this information relating to any violation of FAA statutes.
An amendment to the review process for emergency orders is contained in Section 716. If an appeal to an order is filed with the Board and it is declared to be of an emergency nature, the review shall be requested within 48 hours and disposition occur within five days. Should a finding indicate that an emergency does not exist, then final disposition shall be made not later than 60 days after the appeal is filed.
Repair and maintenance advisory panel
Finally, Section 734 calls for the establishment of a nine-member aircraft repair and maintenance advisory panel. This panel will be charged, within two years, to review issues related to the use and oversight of aircraft and aviation component repair and maintenance facilities within the USA and throughout the world. The Administrator may seek advice from the panel to increase safety by improving the oversight of repair facilities.
If some of the sections contained within AIR-21 sound familiar, they are, but some are new. Many times we see a tendency to have political piling-on when such high-visibility bills are progressing through Congress. The passage of the bill is long overdue; however, you can be assured that ARSA, along with many other associations, will be watching closely as new regulations come soon to an NPRM near you.