FAA Program Enables Using Some Off-The-Shelf Parts In Certificated Aircraft

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Last week, EAA announced the unveiling of the FAA’s Vintage Aircraft Replacement and Modification Article (Varma) program. EAA has advocated many years for the initiative, which enables certain type-certificated aircraft to use a number of non-flight-critical, off-the-shelf parts without need for new regulations, orders or advisory circulars. Eligible aircraft include those weighing less than 12,500 pounds and built before 1980.

According to EAA, “Anyone who owns and operates vintage aircraft knows that finding parts can be a major challenge. This situation is especially frustrating when perfectly safe and functional alternatives are readily available but can’t be used because there’s been no legal way to install them in a type-certificated aircraft. With Varma in place, some aspects of vintage aircraft ownership and operation are about to get a lot simpler.”

EAA said the Varma program empowers regular maintenance providers to validate that “certain low-risk replacement parts are suitable for installation on aircraft.” Neither FAA-approved complex engineering analysis nor “complex and time-consuming design and production approvals” are required.

EAA CEO and Chairman of the Board Jack Pelton said, “This is great news for those of us who own and fly vintage aircraft. There could easily come a time when a classic airplane that would otherwise be grounded for want of a part that’s no longer available will fly again thanks to the parts substitution enabled by Varma.”

The FAA definition of parts that fall under Varma rules includes those that would not “prevent continued safe flight and landing.” So, safety-critical components are not subject to this program, though EAA pointed out “there are plenty of hard-to-find parts that meet Varma’s criteria.”

The same Cessna 150 used in test flying for EAA’s 1982 autogas supplemental type certificate (STC) served as the Varma test article for approving an off-the-shelf starter solenoid—the first of what could be a long-term breakthrough for operators of vintage aircraft.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Considering how many parts on vintage aircraft were “Off the shelf” items, this should have happened years ago. Cessna used Ford alternators and voltage regulators, Piper used Chryslers, or in the case of my Fairchild, the brake master cylinder rubber parts are NAPA part # 2

  2. That should be FAA Advisory Circular (AC) No. 20-62E, Change (CHG) 1 dated September 14, 2018, entitled: “Eligibility, Quality, and Identification of Aeronautical Replacement Parts”.

  3. If the FAA woulda implemented the tenets of the FAR Part 23 ReWrite recommending institution of a NEW category of airworthiness (an EAA recommendation in an Appendix) — “Primary” — allowing airplanes flown recreationally to be so relicensed, there’d be no need for this idea. Any aircraft so relicensed could be considered to be equivalent to an E-AB and would only need a condition inspection by an A&P vs IA … thereby also easing the problem finding IA’s in some places. A Primary airplane wouldn’t need a blessing from “Daddy” to make some minor non-TSO’ed change. But NOOOOOO … all we got was NORSEE. And this VARMA idea is little more than instructions to the FAA inspectors standardizing their actions. In fact, it IS only a FAA Work Instruction clarifying the situation.

    If I had to pick just one thing I’d want the FAA to do … it’d be to implement the “Primary Aircraft” category for small aircraft flown recreationally only. Someone can build a hot rod RV that flies 200mph and IT can be modified at will and conditionally inspected by its builder OR an A&P yet a Piper cub is being treated like a B-747 … GIVE US A BREAK, FAA !! I will “dog” this issue until I retire my A20’s !! The FAR Part 23 ReWrite folks worked for five years and ultimately had little to show for their efforts, sadly. EAA is touting this as a win … it’s really very little on an absolute scale.

    • The continued treatment of piston singles as if they are primarily used to fly charters or be rentals is indeed ridiculous. However, it likely keeps a lot of people in jobs or would require actual thought to change the rules, so I won’t hold my breath.

      The destruction of innovation in aviation is typical government foolishness. The untold cost is incalculable.Look at how long it took to get winglets o into general use?

      • This is something that people need to understand about government agencies. Under normal circumstances they have Zero incentive to change the rules to help you. A government bureaucrat looks at the proposed rule change they are asked to sign of on and asks, how does this benefit me to sign this? There are no incentives to sign they will not get a promotion if they sign, they will not get a raise. On the other hand if they do sign and something goes wrong and it gets made public that can be the end of their career so in those circumstances, would you sign off on a rule change? This leads to a situation where the only rules that normally get signed off on are ones that increase restrictions. The only way reduced restriction rules get passed is with external pressure. You have to be able to threaten either their jobs or their budget. I work as an engineer for the USAF and have seen this over and over again and as far as I can tell it applies to all government agencies. People need to understand that government agencies primary interest is to perpetuate and expand their own existence and the only way to get them to make rule changes that help you is to elect representatives to our government (republican or democrat this is a nonpartisan issue) that will force them to make change that are good for the public instead of just ones that reduce the risk to the agencies.

  4. So does this mean that the following sequence will work: 1) a type club obtains and shares a copy of someone’s letter from the ACO approving a specific article, 2) A mechanic submits a copy of that letter with a 337? … So this letter can act like a communal STC, and the net effect is like fast-tracking STCs for non-safety-critical parts identical in “form fit and function” while bypassing PMA? Or is the letter only good for one airplane?