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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Congress: Enough is Enough!

By Sarah MacLeod, ARSA Executive Director

Few elected officials understand how to run a business or that laws being passed will turn into directives (namely regulations). Fewer still comprehend that there are usually laws and regulations already covering the very subject of the "new" legislation.

Case in point is section 303 of H.R. 915, the "FAA Reauthorization Act," pending in the House of Representatives. The legislation attempts to restrict the use of foreign repair stations under the guise that these entities are not as safe or as secure as having the airlines work on their own aircraft.

Under existing law no new foreign repair station may be certificated by the FAA unless its application had been submitted by Aug. 3, 2008. That provision was inserted because for several years the TSA ignored the law requiring it to adopt security audit standards and then conduct audits of FAA-certificated foreign repair stations. The TSA also failed to adopt security rules that applied to all FAA-certificated repair stations, both domestic and foreign. I certainly appreciate that TSA has more important things to do. However, I learned in seventh grade social studies class that Congress passes bills, the President signs them into law and the executive branch is supposed to enforce them. The non-sequitur here is that Congress decided to punish the industry for the TSA’s inaction. The penalty is simple: no new foreign repair station applications may be processed by the FAA until TSA complies with the law or it is changed. As a result, many companies (including U.S. aerospace companies) cannot establish a new FAA-certificated facility in a foreign country. (The law does not apply to Canada where no FAA repair station certificate is required to perform maintenance on articles subject to U.S. jurisdiction.)

Now there is another threat on the horizon. Section 303, entitled "Inspection of Foreign Repair Stations," contains two provisions that will undermine the entire international aviation industry.

First, it requires FAA to inspect each foreign Part 145 repair station twice annually. While these repair stations are certainly used to multiple inspections, the bill requires that FAA personnel, and not representatives of foreign civil aviation authorities, complete the audits. Put simply, this undermines the whole bilateral aviation safety agreement (BASA) process. Additionally, FAA does not possess the resources to complete such an endeavor and the agency’s inability to inspect will ultimately punish the industry.

Second, Section 303 requires drug and alcohol testing of all foreign repair station safety sensitive personnel. This mandate oversteps FAA’s reach, infringing on the sovereignty of nations where foreign repair stations are based. EASA has indicated that the inclusion of the language will undermine the current U.S./E.U. BASA.

If Section 303 passes in its current form, the E.U. has said it will retaliate by requiring EASA personnel (instead of FAA inspectors) to inspect U.S. repair stations. However, since the E.U. does not yet have foreign inspection personnel, it is not able to inspect the 1,237 EASA-approved repair stations in the U.S. Should it hire inspectors, they will only be able to visit a small percentage of U.S. repair stations. On top of that, repair station operators that are lucky enough to receive inspections will see certification fees rise from approximately $960 currently to $32,100 per inspection, due to the collapse of the BASA.

The law also requires the same drug and alcohol testing regime that applies in the U.S. This would require an immediate surrender of vital repair station certificates around the world because many countries protect their citizens’ right to privacy by prohibiting random drug and alcohol testing.

The surrender of certificates would effectively prevent U.S.-registered aircraft from flying critical international routes without flying a U.S.-based mechanic with it. Why? The country of registry controls the maintenance of the aircraft; in the case of the U.S., work must be performed by a certificated individual or company — that means certificated by the FAA. In order to fly to and return from any location, the aircraft must, at a minimum, have line maintenance performed. Eliminating foreign repair stations severely curtails the use of U.S.-registered aircraft on international routes, pure and simple — not just air carrier aircraft, but private operations as well.

Efforts at the beginning of 2008 by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to include language in the FAA reauthorization bill targeting use of contract maintenance were rebuffed but will be resurrected this year. At the end of 2008, the industry faced an effort by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to include language in the stimulus bill to enforce a moratorium on use of foreign repair stations.

Protecting the aviation maintenance industry in the ongoing fight over FAA reauthorization, contesting the freeze on initial foreign repair station certifications, and rejecting attempted over-reaching by Congress are but a few of ARSA’s initiatives.

The potential for continued growth and amassed strength of the industry’s legislative capabilities now rests with the tens of thousands employed at businesses nationwide, from owners to mechanics. As we’ve stepped up our advocacy, we’ve only begun to glimpse the industry’s potential.

The legislation discussed above represents only the most blatant examples of the need for political activism. So, make this the year when the industry says: "Enough is enough."

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