FAA Feedback: Wedged Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Oct. 7, 2014
If more technicians voiced their opinions in writing on the rules that govern our industry, we would see substantial improvement to our maintenance regulations

It was a quiet Monday in Washington, D.C., until I received a fax from Aircraft Technician magazine (AT). The fax was the first in a trial program in which technicians can voice complaints through AT, to the FAA, on any subject without giving their name or address.

This particular fax came from a repair station vice president. He said that his company had identified two problems with Piper Service Bulletin No. 932. The service bulletin deals with the installation of fuel tank wedges to keep water from collecting in the tanks on several models of Piper PA 23 aircraft.

The repair station, which is rated to work on fuel tanks, claims that the first problem is that the kit is very difficult to install. Both he and another FBO tried to install the kit without success.

The second problem dealt with the design of the wedges. He claims the 90-degree corners on the wedges did not let them conform to the shape of the fuel cell which had more rounded contours.

His complaint focused in on the following issues: He was concerned that when this kit becomes an airworthiness directive (AD), the high cost of both purchasing this kit and the installation cost would pose an undue burden on many owners. He also wanted the FAA to look into the Service Bulletin to see if it is airworthy and to check for alternative methods for solving the water problem.

I checked with the FAA Atlanta Certification engineer who deals with Piper, and he explained that the service bulletin had already been put into an AD format and had been issued as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). He said that it was published in the Federal Register as an NPRM on June 4, 1990.

There is very little that can be done by FAA personnel once the NPRM is published. When it is published, the FAA literally stops work until all public content is received. At this point, if changes are going to be made, it’s up to the public to initiate the change. If little or no comment is received on the NPRM, the rule will probably be made into an AD, as written.

I called the repair station vice president and told him that I have some good news and some bad news. The good news was that he could comment in writing on the proposed AD, state his objections, defend his reasons, and offer any alternative means of eliminating water from the tanks.

He was also told that the engineer in charge of this AD was required by law to study each comment and develop an answer to each objection to the proposed rule. No comment on a proposed regulation can be ignored by the FAA.

The bad news is that any comments must be sent in triplicate to the FAA Docket in Kansas City, MO, before July 24, 1990. The gentleman from the repair station said he felt strongly enough that he would indeed comment on this issue in writing.

Credit is certainly due to this gentleman for standing by his convictions. Many people in our industry just stand off to the side and don’t actively participate in the maintenance-related rulemaking process. This gives substance to the old Washington proverb: “Bad regulations are written by good people who don’t get involved.”

Originally printed in the July/August 1990 issue of Aircraft Technician

If more technicians voiced their opinions in writing on the rules that govern our industry, we would see substantial improvement to our maintenance regulations.

About the Author

Bill O'Brien