What is the Process, and Why are they Important?
Is a mechanic or maintenance facility responsible for maintaining my aircraft in an airworthy condition? As a student pilot, I asked my flight instructor for the answer. He said, “No, your mechanic or maintenance facility is not responsible. You, as the owner or operator, are responsible for maintaining your aircraft in an airworthy condition, and that includes compliance with part 39, Airworthiness Directives.”
Airworthiness Directives (ADs) are legally enforceable regulations under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 39. ADs let us know when an unsafe condition exists with an aircraft, engine, propeller, or appliance, if that unsafe condition is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design, and what actions we, as owners or operators, are required to do to resolve it. In fact, section 91.7(b) states “The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight. The pilot in command shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur.” Non-compliance with an AD makes the aircraft unairworthy.
There’s no question that I cannot operate my plane unless I meet the conditions of the AD, or meet the conditions of an approved alternative method to comply with that AD.
But does the mechanic, maintenance facility, or even the owner/operator have an input in the AD process? “Yes,” my instructor explained, “it takes a village to create an AD, and input from the GA community is one of the key factors in the AD decision-making process.”
What is the AD Process?
The FAA uses a data-driven, risk-based approach to analyze continued operational safety data and monitor safety in aircraft fleets. Risk-based decision making looks at data to learn where risks and potential problems may exist, and how to address them before an accident can happen. Collected from multiple sources, such as aviation accidents and service difficulty reports (SDRs) to name a few, the FAA uses safety data to filter and identify safety concerns. Multiple experts, such as aviation safety engineers and inspectors, review the data to assess the risk and then trigger, if necessary, mandatory or non-mandatory corrective actions to address the safety concern.
Non-mandatory corrective actions come in the form of recommendations, such as Special Airworthiness Information Bulletins. Mandatory corrective actions are ADs, and depending on the immediate risk, the FAA will issue either an emergency or a proposed AD.
How Does GA Contribute to the AD Process?
In cases where an emergency does not exist, the FAA publishes the proposed AD as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register. The NPRM opens up a comment period that provides the public an opportunity to take a look at the issues noted in the proposed AD, the solutions the AD offers to correct the unsafe condition, and the recommended compliance timeframes. The public can add to, offer suggestions, express alternatives to these proposals, and recommend alternative means of compliance before the proposed AD, with its compliance conditions and timeframes, becomes a final, mandatory rule.
Public comments, from mechanics and owners alike, are valuable and can help the aviation community better understand the severity of an unsafe condition, or suggest alternative ways to comply. Take a look at the article “What is the Federal Register, and Why is it Important?” found earlier in this issue for more on how you can help shape ADs and contribute to the AD process.
Mechanics and owners can also contribute to the AD process by supplying GA aviation data to the FAA using SDRs and Malfunction or Defect Report forms. These forms report aircraft service problem data to the FAA and provide for the analysis of service problems, can detect safety issues early on, and expedite corrective actions and ultimate solutions. The aviation data provided by these reports assist the FAA in its risk-based approach to the AD decision-making process.
Why are ADs Important?
Safety. ADs let us know when an unsafe condition exists, and sadly, there are too many cases
where owners or operators did not comply with an AD, and accidents or incidents occurred as a result. This past August, a Piper PA28-161 lost engine power on approach and ended up in a lake. Non-compliance on an AD was to blame for the loss of power. Luckily, the pilot swam to safety, but in many other cases, a fatality is the unfortunate result. Reportedly, when investigators questioned the pilot, he said he didn’t know there was an AD issued on his plane.
The More You Know. Awareness of ADs that exist on your aircraft is important, and knowledge can equal safety. There are many ways that mechanics and owners/operators can keep current on ADs issued for aircraft and their compliance timeframes. Check out the FAA’s website www.faa. gov/regulations_policies/airworthiness_ directives/ where you can sign up for alerts. Visit rgl.faa.gov to search for ADs using a manufacturer or model number. You can also go directly to the Federal Register’s site at www.federalregister.gov/agencies/federal-aviation-administration.
Other ways to learn more about ADs that apply to your aircraft include joining a type club, subscribing to GA publications (like this one!), and becoming involved with GA organizations or advocate groups.
Maintenance. Performance rules for repairs and maintenance apply to mechanics and maintenance facilities under 14 CFR section 43.13. However, owners or operators are responsible for maintaining an aircraft in an airworthy condition, not mechanics or maintenance facilities. It is a good idea for owners/operators to partner up with their favorite mechanics or repair stations to keep current on ADs affecting their aircraft of responsibility, and ensure that AD compliance is covered during annual and 100-hour inspections.
Owner/operators should work with maintenance technicians and staff to review the logbooks after maintenance. It is the owner’s responsibility to ensure AD work is complete, and recorded properly in the logbook.
Insurance. Your aircraft insurance policy almost always states that you must maintain your aircraft in an airworthy condition, or the policy can be deemed null and void. If you have an accident, and there are outstanding ADs on your aircraft, your insurance company may elect not to pay for damages, as the aircraft is considered unairworthy with non-compliance to ADs.
Money. Research an airplane’s AD history before you buy and factor into your purchase price any compliance work that’s overdue. The last thing you want to do is buy an aircraft that has an expensive compliance. As the new owner, you will have to foot the bill for that compliance before you can operate your plane.
Mechanics or owners may know of less costly alternatives for compliance with an AD. You can submit Alternative Methods of Compliance (AMOC) to seek approval on less expensive corrective methods or if necessary, alternative timeframes for compliance. Check out “AMOCs, ADs, and You” in this issue’s Vertically Speaking department for more details.
Operators, owners, mechanics, and maintenance facilities are all partners in aviation safety, and ADs are critical elements in maintaining that safety. Stay informed, and contribute your expertise to keep planes airworthy, enjoyable, and safe to fly.
Jennifer Caron is an assistant editor for FAA Safety Briefing. She is a certified technical writer-editor, and is currently pursuing a Sport Pilot Certificate.
Want to be notified when there’s a new AD?
Go to bit.ly/2cRRLCA to sign up for email delivery of new ADs based on your aircraft type and make.
Want to see ADs open for comment?
Go to bit.ly/2cHOXJ2
Want to see all the ADs issued by the FAA, even as far back as 1940?
Go to 1.usa.gov/1bQ6lmB
Want paper copies of ADs?
Call the Government Publishing Office at (202) 512-1806 for a paid subscription, or go to bit.ly/2cRStj7 to visit the GPO bookstore.