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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: FAA, Vendor, Operators Sort Through NVG Turmoil

CLARIFICATION: Aviation Specialties Unlimited says that no more than 10 helicopters had use of their night-vision systems suspended as a result of discrepancies between installations and the paperwork submitted to the FAA, and that those were limited to two operators. It notes that the FAA official with which it has worked to develop a plan to correct the discrepancies is a project manager in the Northwest Region Aircraft Certification Office. It also points out that its congressional representative is a man, not a woman. See ASU's full comments on this article.

The FAA and Aviation Specialties Unlimited are attempting to sort through questions about the installation of night-vision systems that have forced operators to suspend use of those systems on more than 100 helicopters.

The turmoil centers on the adequacy of paperwork Boise, Idaho-based Aviation Specialties filed with the FAA on each installation and on the definition of an acceptable plan for correcting discrepancies between those documents and the configurations in use on operational aircraft.

"We were broke," said Aviation Specialties President Mike Atwood. "The honorable thing to do was to go out and fix it."

Atwood said the company has spent about $1 million to date fixing discrepancies. That includes hiring additional quality assurance people and draftsmen and retaining an FAA designated engineering representative to work nearly full time on the project.

The problems cropped up late last year, after Atwood wrote to his local congresswoman complaining of inconsistent treatment among FAA Flight Standards District Offices in processing NVG installations. That triggered an FAA review of Aviation Specialities’ implementation of supplemental type certificates (STC) for such installations. The review uncovered cases in which installation configurations did not match company-submitted paperwork that the FAA had approved. That, in turn, prompted a more comprehensive review by the FAA.

FAA officials originally identified a list of 191 aircraft whose night-vision system installations were suspect. Atwood said that list included helicopters his company used for STC flight tests and a number flown by public-use operators. The list of affected aircraft has remained in flux.

Working with an inspector in the FAA’s Northwest region, Atwood said, Aviation Specialties developed a plan for reviewing and correcting installation discrepancies by the end of the year. But officials higher up in the agency are pushing for a faster resolution of the matter.

FAA officials reviewed NVG installations by other vendors, but the discrepancies appear to be limited to those done by Aviation Specialties.

FAA officials have not grounded aircraft whose installations are suspect. But they have told operators that the airworthiness of those aircraft is in doubt, and that the operators would be responsible for any violations of federal regulations that result from their use. That has prompted operators to ground the affected aircraft for NVG purposes.

Aviation Specialties has lost its FAA Part 145 repair station certificate as a result of the problems. Atwood said FAA officials indicated initially that they would accept his surrender of the certificate, but then returned it and said they would instead perform an emergency revocation of the certificate.
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