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Inspection Authorization: Are You "Actively Engaged"?

By Gregory J. Reigel

March, 2012 All rights reserved.

If you hold a mechanic certificate with airframe and powerplant ratings, you know that you need an inspection authorization ("IA") issued under FAR 65.91 in order to perform and sign off on an annual or progressive inspection, or to inspect an aircraft and return it to service after a major repair or major alteration. In order to obtain an IA, a mechanic must meet the eligibility requirements of Section 65.91(c). Section 65.93(a) incorporates those same requirements for renewal of an IA. An IA is issued for a two-year period and expires on March 31 of odd-numbered years.

One of the requirements for obtaining or renewing an IA is that an applicant "have been actively engaged, for at least the two-year period before the date he applies, in maintaining aircraft certificated and maintained in accordance with [the FARs].'' Unfortunately, the term "actively engaged" is not defined in the FARs. Rather, its definition has been explained in FAA guidance material that, over the years, has resulted in some confusion.

In order to remove the confusion and inconsistent application of the term by the FAA, in November, 2010, the FAA published a notice of proposed policy clarifying the definition of "actively engaged'' for the purposes of an IA. The FAA initially restated the obvious that "an applicant who is employed full-time in inspecting, overhauling, repairing, preserving, or replacing parts on aircraft consistently are considered actively engaged."

However, for someone who only participated in maintenance activities on a part-time or occasional basis, regardless of employment status, the FAA proposed that an aviation safety inspector ("ASI") "would use documentation or other evidence provided by the applicant detailing the maintenance activity to determine whether the type of maintenance activity performed, considering any special expertise required, and the quantity of maintenance activity demonstrated the applicant was actively engaged."

As you might imagine, the FAA received quite a few comments in response to the November, 2010 notice. In fact, the FAA received more than 954 comments. After considering the comments, on August 4, 2011 the FAA issued a final Notice of Policy that included amendments to the FAA's guidance on IA qualification and renewal, including explanation of the "actively engaged" requirement, and also responded to some of the more significant issues raised in the comments.

According to the policy, an applicant applying for an IA under FAR 65.91(c) must:
  1. hold a current mechanic's certificate with both airframe and powerplant ratings that has been in effect for at least 3 years;

  2. have been actively engaged in maintaining aircraft for 2 years prior to the application;

  3. identify a fixed base of operation at which he or she may be located in person or by phone during normal working hours (this may be a residence or place of employment); and

  4. have available the equipment, facilities, and inspection data necessary to properly inspect airframes, powerplants, propellers, or related parts or appliances. (The policy provides an explanation of the technical data, equipment and facilities that meet these requirements.)

In order to renew an IA under FAR 65.93(a), an applicant will need to present evidence to the ASI to demonstrate that he or she still meets the four requirements of FAR 65.91(c), and according to the FAA, refresher training alone does not satisfy those requirements. Thus, applicant's will need to demonstrate that they are "actively engaged" in some way other than by simply attending refresher training.

Additionally, the renewal applicant will need to show that he or she has completed at least one of the following activities in the first year and completed at least one in the second year:
  1. Performed at least one annual inspection for each 90 days that the applicant held the current authority;

  2. performed at least two major repairs or major alterations for each 90 days that the applicant held the current authority;

  3. performed or supervised and approved at least one progressive inspection in accordance with standards prescribed by the Administrator;

  4. attended and successfully completed a refresher course, acceptable to the Administrator, of not less than 8 hours of instruction; or

  5. passed an oral test by an FAA inspector to determine that the applicant's knowledge of applicable regulations and standards is current.

With respect to the "actively engaged" requirement, the policy notes that "[a]ctively engaged means an active role in exercising the privileges of an airframe and powerplant mechanic certificate in the maintenance of civil aircraft. Applicants who inspect, overhaul, repair, preserve, or replace parts on aircraft, or who supervise (i.e., direct and inspect) those activities, are actively engaged." Additionally, technical instructors or individuals instructing in a FAA Part 147 approved AMT school, who also engage in the maintenance of aircraft certificated and maintained in accordance with the FARs or aircraft-related instruction equipment maintained in accordance with the FARs, can be considered actively engaged.

The applicant will need to supply the ASI with evidence or documentation that shows the applicant was inspecting, overhauling, repairing, preserving, or replacing parts on aircraft, or supervising those activities. This could include employment records, return to service documents or copies of maintenance record entries.

Unfortunately, the ASI still has discretion as to whether he or she believes an applicant is "actively engaged." And since the IA is an FAA authorization, not a certificate or license, the FAA does not have a formal process for appealing an ASI's denial of an initial or renewal IA application. However, for what its worth (which may or may not be much), the policy notes that any issues an IA applicant has with an ASI regarding an application "could be addressed through the Aviation Safety Consistency and Standardization Initiative (CSI), which requires review of a questioned or disputed action at every level of the AVS management chain."

Conclusion

IA applicants have the burden of demonstrating to the FAA that they meet the requirements of FAR 65.91. That has not changed. However, at least now we have some clarification as to what an applicant will need to produce in order to demonstrate that he or she meets those requirements when the policy is applied to the next renewal cycle in March 2013. IA applicants should make sure they have sufficient documentation to show they meet the requirements and are "actively engaged."


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