A new rule proposed by the FAA would begin a process to set what are essentially life limits for transport-category aircraft. The new rule would require manufacturers to develop an operational limit and substantiate that widespread fatigue damage will not occur prior to airplanes' reaching that limit. Once the operational limit is set, airplanes cannot be flown beyond that point unless an extension is approved. The FAA says the program would have a total cost over 20 years of $360 million, of which about 10 percent will be faced by manufacturers and the rest by operators. The rule has no affect on GA aircraft. AOPA says aging is not an issue in the GA fleet, and has lobbied the FAA to leave the fleet alone.
"A review by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation shows that the problem of mechanical or maintenance failure due to age is actually declining," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs, last week. "We ask that the FAA continue to pursue a non-regulatory approach to ensuring the continued airworthiness of the aging general aviation fleet that is data driven and based on sound risk management practices that will yield affordable solutions." Since 1990, more than 540 Airworthiness Directives have been issued for structural aircraft issues, the FAA says. Those rules were prompted by three major factors: Airplanes are being operated beyond original design service goals, original maintenance plans were not required to address potential age-related issues, and the 1988 Aloha Airlines accident in which part of the fuselage tore away in flight.