The ABCs of PMAs

by Dale Smith

SuperiorCylinder251Ever since the issuance of Civil Air Regulation (CAR) 1.55 nearly 60-years ago replacement parts created under FAA Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) rules have suffered with a serious identity crisis: Aircraft owners, operators and maintainers continually struggle with what exactly these parts are and where they come from.

The simple definition is that PMAs permit persons other than the original FAA Type Certificate (TC) holder to produce and sell “FAA-approved” replacement parts for installation on airframes and engines.

There you go. Class dismissed. Unfortunately, in the 10,000 shades of grey world of aircraft maintenance, things just can’t be that clear-cut. You have to ask, what am I missing?

“While, overall I think the PMA business is pretty good today, the industry’s understanding of what we really mean by that term is not so good,” stated Sarah MacLeod, executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA). “PMAs have always been misunderstood and when you try to differentiate between the various kinds of PMAs it gets even more convoluted.”

One area of the PMA maze that seems to give so many ARSA member shops the most cause for concern are what MacLeod calls “captive PMAs.”

“These captive PMAs are actually those an original TC (Type Certificate) holder has another company make for them under license if you will,” she said. “Some suppliers think that creating a PMA part under license eliminates all their responsibility – not even close.”

“For example, lets say this aircraft OEM needs you to PMA a constant-speed drive unit that has to meet a specific set of specifications,” MacLeod said. “So you get a licensing agreement from the TC holder to make that part to meet those precise specifications. Job done, right? Not on your life.”

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