Alaskans Stop FAA Cold

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Modification Rule Suspended...

Alphabet groups? Washington lobbyists? They're lightweights. To get things done with the FAA at lightning speed we'll take a gang of Alaska bush pilots any day. A loose coalition of 49th-state airlines, charter companies and maintenance firms has gained a temporary exemption from a national policy on aftermarket aircraft modifications. Of the FAA's new policy on the field approval of major repairs and non-STC modifications to aircraft (announced Sept. 13), Dan Bardwell, owner of Bedrock Aviation in Anchorage, said, "The FAA is manufacturing a safety problem where none existed before." Bardwell's comments were among those from various Alaska companies posted on Internet aviation forums earlier this week. Previously, field inspectors had wide latitude in making those approvals, but to enforce uniform standards for that type of work, the new policy requires all but the simplest modifications to be reviewed by committees of FAA officials. The new rule also banned all field approvals on Part 121 (scheduled service) aircraft. "This new set of regulations blows Era Aviation and Pen Air (two major regional carriers) out of the water," Bardwell said on the online forum. It also moves away from the opportunity to learn from the practical innovations these carriers implement to combat extreme conditions in their normal working environment ... of course, learning was never the intent.

NOTE: You can read the new policy online, in Microsoft Word format.

...Exemption "Temporary"...

Earlier this month, as FAA officials began enforcing the rule (reluctantly, according to some sources), the Alaskans got organized. Todd Bureau, a tour company operator out of Hope, Alaska, said they bombarded their congressmen and pressured the regional FAA brass until on Thursday the order was lifted in Alaska. FAA officials agree the "information" they received from Alaskan aviators prompted the action. "I think it's a good thing for us to respond quickly when there might be an impact on our customers," said Joette Storm, the FAA's community relations manager for Alaska. Yes, she did say that and yes, she works for the FAA. She quickly recovered, however, and stressed that the exemption for Alaska is temporary (how temporary, she couldn't say) and that the move to a national standard for such things is in everyone's interest. She said the policy has been in development for years and is aimed at avoiding the patchwork of standards that can result from too much local discretion. "We're looking for consistency," she said.

...Field Approvals Common

Bureau said the only thing consistent about Alaskan operating conditions is their lack of consistency. Necessity has led to innovation and inventions that keep the planes flying in amazing circumstances. The FAA staff in the north became equally adaptive and field approvals became a matter of course. There were 2,300 last year, according to Storm. "This has been the FAA's way of dealing with these things for 30 or 40 years," said Bureau. "Alaska has always been more liberal on field approvals." Bureau doesn't use his Piper PA20 commercially but became involved in the issue as he worked through the approval process for a modification that will help his 20-minute air-commute (versus two-hour drive) to Anchorage in the winter months -- he put studded tires on the plane. "It should help with the directional stability on the ground." ... Not to mention the spark show on clean hard-surface landings.