By Rob Stapleton
January 13, 2011
A proposal by the Federal Aviation Administration to clarify part-time from full-time aircraft mechanics that have an inspector authorization could have a potentially devastating impact on Alaskan aircraft, according to owners of legacy aircraft.
Called the “airworthiness mechanics renewal,” the FAA has introduced aNotice of Proposed Rulemaking FAA-2010-1060: “Policy Clarifying Definition of ‘Actively Engaged’ for Purposes of Inspector Authorization,” and isasking for the public’s commentsby Jan. 17.
Many Alaskan aircraft owners are concerned that mechanics possessing the inspector authorization, with knowledge and experience on older aircraft and engines that are still flying in Alaska, may lose their authorization to inspect and approve aircraft for flight.
The policy change is mainly over the semantics of the definition of a part-time inspector versus a full-time inspector, according to FAA documents.
While the FAA calls it a clarification, others are not so sure.
“The rules for mechanics with the AI/IA authorization are very good and reasonable as they exist,” says Lars Gleitsmann, who is part owner in seven aircraft. “The so-called ‘clarification’ is unnecessary and opens up the possibility for abuse by individuals within the FAA.”
The clarification could block mechanic inspectors who have retired from full-time work, but still retain their certifications and authorizations. In demand due to their expertise, many work part time approving repairs on aircraft used both commercially and by general aviation.
According to Gleitsmann, there are not enough mechanics with the AI/IA authorization to meet the demand on radial engine aircraft and who know and understand older Lycoming and Continental engines commonly used in the1950s, 60s, and 70s era aircraft.
Gleitsmann and other aircraft owners are feeling a pinch in part because of the closing of Aero-Recip last August. Aero-Recip overhauled many legacy aircraft engines and its retreat back to headquarters in Canada left a void that only a few Alaskan, part-time expert engine mechanics can fill.
Additionally, mechanics who worked on special types of aircraft that are no longer in commercial service but are privately owned have a wealth of knowledge that is not commercially available in modern aviation repair stations.
The notice does allows for part-time work and specificity recognizing limited work performed by a mechanic/IA who has special expertise in aircraft of limited numbers, and/or in unique limited access geographic areas, but the FAA put no time frame or details about how to obtain waivers or permissions.
“Good maintenance is very crucial to our safety in GA, and the part-time-only mechanics with the AI/IA authorization have the time and patience to work on older aircraft and do the job right,” said Gleitsmann.
Fear that a “new” clarification may remove part-time inspectors’ authorizations could potentially ground aircraft that are essential to the Alaska transportation infrastructure. Those interested can comment about it before the deadline.