A sticky situation

Feb. 1, 1998

A Sticky Situation

For a general aviation technician

By John Goglia

February 1998

John Goglia is a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). He has been a technician for USAir for the past 30 years.

For some time I have been advising aviation technicians working under FARs 121 or 135 of the directive that they are required to follow the manual because that is where they get the instructions for continuing airworthiness. If the manual doesn't contain the repair that is needed, then other procedures must be followed in order to obtain the proper approvals for a repair to be developed.

Sometimes this process is not as clear when repairing aircraft operated under Part 91.

While looking through the NTSB legal decisions, I found a case that makes this point and provides an interesting twist.

The subject aircraft was a Fairchild PT19. One day a FAA Airworthiness Inspector was performing a random ramp inspection on this aircraft and discovered a few deficiencies, which he brought to the attention of the owner. Since the owner was not a certified mechanic, he contacted one and instructed him to repair the deficiencies as found. A few days later, the same FAA inspector returned to find that the repairs had been made to this aircraft; however, there was no description of what work had been performed.

This led to a more detailed investigation and an interview with the technician who performed the repairs. A short time later, a certified letter arrived from the FAA listing two violations of FARs 43.9(a)(1) and 43.13(a) and (b). For these violations, the administrator chose to revoke the mechanic's certificate.

One of the deficiencies that the FAA inspector found and charged the mechanic with was: "splitting in the center section of the trailing edge of the right wing."

The charges go on to state that the repairs performed to this item were not in accordance with Technical Order No. 01-115 GA-2, which is the service manual for this aircraft.

This case went before a NTSB administrative law judge who listened to testimony from both sides and after deliberating, found for the FAA and revoked this certificate.

In accordance with NTSB rules, this mechanic appealed the decision to the full five-member board. After a full review of the record, the board found a violation of Section 43.9 (a)(1) was established. It also stated that the respondent's entry of "C/W" for compiled with beside the two items did not constitute a description of whatever work may have been performed."

Although most mechanics have probably seen a considerable number of log entries of "C/W," there is no question that the FAA could issue a violation in almost every instance where this shows up.

We are required to fully state and record what actions we have taken when performing maintenance. So far, this case was clear. The mechanic failed to record the work he performed and the work was not in accordance with the manual. Well, now I must tell you about the FAR 43.13(a) and (b) violations.

This aircraft, a Fairchild PT19, has long been out of production and the repair manuals are dated regarding what materials should be used in accomplishing repairs. A mechanic working in this environment must be extra cautious. The manual called for the use of "casein" or "resin" glue in repairing the splitting of the trailing edge of the right wing. The mechanic had chosen to use an epoxy. This is where the full board made this case interesting, and I will take the following directly from the legal decision.

The board stated "We also entertain no doubt that the record supports the finding of a violation of Section 43.13(b). Respondent's own admission establish that the 4 to 6 inch split in the trailing edge of the wing was not repaired in accordance with the service manual for the Fairchild aircraft. That fact alone is sufficient to prove the charge, for it is that manual that sets forth the 'methods, techniques and practices' for the repair of the wing that are 'acceptable to the administrator' within the meaning of Section 43.13(a). Despite that conclusion, we are not persuaded that respondent's use, in connection with the repair, of an unapproved epoxy glue, instead of casein or resin glue as originally used on the aircraft, 'automatically' establishes a violation of section 43.13(b)."

Section 43.13(b) does not, as the administrator argues, forbid the use of a material "unless it is previously determined that the material is acceptable to the FAA" (Adm. Br. at p.19). Rather, it requires that any material used in the maintenance of an aircraft be "of such quality" that the aircraft's condition, after the work has been performed, "will be at least equal to its original or properly altered condition (with regard to aerodynamic function, structural strength, resistance to vibration and deterioration, and other qualities affecting airworthiness.)"

In other words, the administrator, in order to prove that respondent had violated section 43.13(b), was obligated, in our judgment, to put on evidence demonstrating that either the unapproved repair technique or the epoxy glue utilized in the repair to the Fairchild's wing compromised one or more of the qualities affecting airworthiness" listed parenthetically in the regulation. Because he failed to advance any such evidence, we agree with respondent that Administrator did not meet his burden of proof as to the Section 43.13(b) charge. It will be dismissed."

What this means is that the FAA did not put into evidence anything which demonstrated that the epoxy glue was of a lesser quality when compared to the types listed in the manual, and because of that, a violation of 43.13(B) was dismissed.

Additionally, this also caused a review of the sanction (revocation of the mechanic's certificate) imposed by the FAA and upheld by the administrative law judge. This review resulted in the sanction being modified to a 90-day suspension.