FAA Reinterprets Maintenance Rule, Aircraft Owners Benefit

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A review by the FAA about what the word "current" really means in a regulation regarding maintenance of multiengine turboprops and turbine-powered aircraft is good news for owners and operators, AOPA said this week. The legal interpretation arose from a question regarding whether an aircraft operator is obliged to comply with the maintenance standards that were in place when the aircraft was manufactured or with updated maintenance instructions. Although the industry has historically interpreted the rule to mean that the latest standards must be applied, the new interpretation says the operator is not obliged to do so. The FAA notice says an operator needs only to adopt a manufacturer's inspection program that is "current" as of the time he adopts it, and that program remains "current" unless the FAA mandates revisions to it. Such a mandate would be adopted in the form of either an AD or an amendment to the operating rules.

"By extension, this interpretation applies to ANY aircraft," says AVweb's Savvy Aviator columnist Mike Busch. "What it means is that no change that the manufacturer makes to its maintenance manual or ICA subsequent to aircraft delivery or STC installation is compulsory UNLESS it is explicitly FAA-approved." AOPA says the FAA's review is particularly good news for owners of Cessna 425 and 441 Conquests, which were built 20 to 30 years ago. Recently, these owners were facing the possibility of having to comply with extremely invasive inspections, including the removal of the aircraft's wings, because of multiple updates to Cessna's maintenance program, AOPA said. They now can comply with the maintenance program in place at the time their airplanes were built.

"Owners need to spend time talking to the mechanics who've worked on their aircraft to decide what type of inspections to have performed," said Rob Hackman, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs. "Owners should consider many factors, including the aircraft's history, total time, how long they've owned it, how familiar they are with its maintenance, and the information they gather from those who have completed the inspections in making their decisions." For more info about this topic, click here for a PDF of the FAA's notice, and click here for AOPA's explanation.