Repair Stations Threatened

March 1, 2000

Repair Stations Threatened

Part 145 recommendations may shut you

By Stephen P. Prentice

March 2000

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 worked with Western Airlines and the Allison Division of GMC in Latin America, servicing commercial and military overhaul activities and is a USAF veteran. E-mail: [email protected]

If you work for or contract with a repair station, you should note that the Feds have proposed changes to the venerable FAR 145 Repair Station rules. They state that they have proposed these changes as being necessary because ". . . many portions of the current repair station regulations do not reflect changes in repair station business practices and aircraft maintenance practices, or advances in aircraft technology."

I don't know about you, but to me, business practices seem to have remained about the same for many years. The only exceptions I see are upgrades in equipment and a few computers added here and there.

Nonetheless there seems to be this big push to put more pressure on small repair stations to changes their work practices — changes that will do nothing but increase their costs of doing business.

Key Changes
The key changes involve new requirements relevant to station Ratings and Classes, relative to work performed.

Added responsibility for subcontracted work is also a big part of the new proposed rule. It would place direct responsibility more clearly on the repair station for the work of the contractor. They will be required to audit, assure quality control, and verify any work performed. Repair stations will be held strictly responsible for all aspects of the work. Required manuals would be expanded to include further inspection, training and procedural outlines for all work.

Training would be enhanced and include an FAA approved program for initial and recurrent training for all employees using an FAA approved training manual.

As a technician or other employee at a repair station, you should know that many in our industry believe that these changes will have a serious, negative impact on existing repair stations.

Many feel they will be forced to relinquish their status as repair stations, or worse, just go out of business and shut the doors. It's clear that the administrative and training requirements alone may be sufficient to sink many of them. Add to this, other reporting requirements and the already existing drug testing protocols and liability insurance requirements, and you have a guaranteed formula for disaster.

Certified Repair Stations
The theory behind a certified shop is that it is somehow on a higher level and does better work than a non-certified shop. In reality, under the current law there should be no difference in the quality of the work performed.

The subtle difference, of course, is all too obvious. In one case, the repair station approves aircraft for return to service and in the other, an individual mechanic does the approving. This insulates, to a certain extent, the mechanics working at a repair station and puts the other more directly under the general liability and FAA gun.

Some have wondered and still wonder why we need repair stations in the first place? Well, there are some advantages. If you keep in mind that a repair station can have many unlicensed personnel on the payroll, you can begin to see some of the reasoning.

A repair station can have one or two licensed personnel and many more unlicensed workers — the number can vary up and down over a period of time. Unlicensed people, with some exceptions, have to be supervised. How many workers can an A&P supervise?

Of course, FAA is supposed to have continuous oversight of certified facilities but as we all know from recent history, it just does not happen. So, repair stations may have many unlicensed workers and thus cut down on their payroll requirements.

Additionally, a repair station can have certificated "repairmen." As long as the non-licensed person and/or the repairman work under the "supervision" of licensed personnel, they are legal. Problem is, how much supervision do these people need?

Further, an advantage of a repair station is that it does not have to deal with the 337 forms. As stated quite clearly in the FAR (App. B, Part 43), a certificated repair station need only use the customer's work order to document the repair or alteration. That's it.

Finally, one of the hallmarks of a certified shop is the continuous surveillance of the operation by the FAA. Today, each shop has an assigned principal maintenance inspector who regularly audits the facility for quality control.

The Non-Certified Shop
There are substantially more maintenance shops in this country that are "small" rather than large. Many certified repair stations are small facilities. General aviation airports in this country have one or more mechanics who operate a small shop maintaining small aircraft. Some of these shops, that typically employ five to ten people, have repair station status. But, do they really need it?

So, it may make good sense to give up your certification, particularly if the new changes come into effect.

Turning in your repair station ticket would do several things. First, FAA surveillance would be reduced. There would be no need to maintain a repair station manual with inspection and training requirements. No need to designate a chief inspector. Possibly reduced insurance premiums. A smaller administrative burden. You can probably think of a few more benefits. What is the downside you ask? Well, you do lose a little prestige. Some customers may put more stock in a shop that was "certified." In today's business however, many don't think this is an important element. And, as mentioned above, you will have to revert to the 337 form for any major repairs or alterations. If there are any other downsides, I would like to hear about them.

Suggested Solutions
There have been many suggestions made but the most useful one seems to be a two-tier repair station setup. That is modifying the so called "tough" new rules and divide the shops into large and small stations. Old rules can apply to small shops and new rules to big outfits.

The reason being that the big outfits can afford the increased administrative load. As suggested, the dividing line could be turbine equipment and piston, or more logically, gross weight and horsepower (thrust) of the aircraft. The idea would be to separate the big guys from the little guys. The bottom line here is that a one-sized rule can't fit all the shops.

The Threat
Something has to be done in order to keep all the shops we have now. The result of the recently proposed rules will be less surveillance, fewer audits of work performed, perhaps many workers and repairmen out of work — all in the name of keeping pace with growth? Go figure.

Pick up a copy of the proposed new rule and read it. If you have access to the Internet, you can find information on the new proposed rule at part_145_rewrite_table_of_content. htm. Also, you can visit AMT magazine's Web site at www.amtonline. com for links to the Federal Register.

Although the official time to respond to the NPRM has passed (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) you can still send in your two cents anytime.