Exporting Aircraft Parts: ITARs or EARs – Choosing the Right Set of Export Regulations

Exporting Aircraft Parts: ITARs or EARs – Choosing the Right Set of Export Regulations

Do you know the difference between the ITARs and the EARs? If you are exporting aircraft parts out of the United States, then you need to understand the difference between these two acronyms (they represent two different U.S. export legal systems).

In the last issue of Aviation Maintenance Magazine, we provided a general overview of U.S. export laws, particularly as they apply to aircraft parts. We examined the regulations coming from the Commerce, State and Treasury Departments.

This month, we examine how to distinguish Commerce Department jurisdiction from State Department jurisdiction. Many people are familiar with the ITARs (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) that are administered by the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, and the EARs (Export Administration Regulations) that are administered by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security; but exporters can get confused about which set of regulations applies to a specific export. Properly identifying the Department with export jurisdiction is important because the different Departments have different regulations that apply to exports.

People tend to think of the State Department as having jurisdiction over defense article exports and of the Commerce Department as having jurisdiction over all other exports. This simplistic approach might be a good place to start, but it lacks the precision that we need to accurately determine our compliance path when we export aircraft parts. An accurate determination of export jurisdiction is an important step in your export analysis, because aircraft parts will be subject to the jurisdiction of one Department or the other, but not both.

Export Jurisdiction History

The law has clarified that aircraft parts exports are subject to the jurisdiction of either Commerce Department or State Department regulations; but clearly identifying the Department with jurisdiction has been tough, in the past. It used to be the case that an exporter would need to know information that was not readily available to the public in order to ascertain export jurisdiction. This made export compliance especially difficult.

The process of simplifying the compliance path began over 15 years ago. The Bush Administration had identified exports as a priority, and the Commerce Department reached out to me as a trade association representative to ask how it could promote aircraft parts exports? I identified regulatory simplification as an important step, because many companies refused to export because the process was complicated, and they could not be certain of their compliance. I also suggested that vague and subjective language should be eliminated in the regulations. Put simply, if the U.S. Government wanted to regulate an article for export purposes, then the U.S. government should say so, plainly. And if the U.S. Government did not know whether it wanted to regulate that good for export purposes then the U.S. Government had no business making us guess at whether the good was regulated. I even went so far as to say that there should be a positive list of ITAR-controlled articles, and that the assumption should be that if an article is not on the list, then it is not ITAR-controlled. This was a major departure from the then-current language which made exporters guess at features like original design-intent for aircraft parts in order to identify the Department with jurisdiction.

I was not sure if my suggestions would be taken seriously. They were! The Commerce Department adopted the suggestions, negotiated them with the State Department, and found ways to implement them. The aerospace staff at the Commerce Department did a tremendous job in making it easier for exporters to understand how to export aircraft parts. They knew that simplification made it much more likely that exporters would be able to successfully comply with the regulations.

The process toward simplification came to its conclusion about a decade ago, when the United States government overhauled its export laws to make it easier to identify the Department with jurisdiction. In 2013 this overhaul focused on the export regulations that affected aircraft parts. And an important element was the “positive list” that we’d requested.

Identifying the Department with Jurisdiction

First, when identifying the Department with jurisdiction you need to identify what your part is. Where it goes is of secondary importance (except for rare cases, like the special rules that apply to L-100 parts versus C-130 parts). The identity of the part (and its operating characteristics) is usually going to be the primary driver in determining the Department with export jurisdiction.

Under today’s regulations the State Department has jurisdiction over a narrow set of aircraft parts exports, which can be summarized as this:

• Specially designed parts for developmental aircraft funded by the Department of Defense via contract or other funding authorization;

• Parts for the following aircraft: B-1B, B-2, B-21, F-15SE, F/A-18 E/F, EA-18G, F-22, F-35, and future variants thereof; or the F-117 or U.S. Government technology demonstrators;

• Certain rotorcraft gearboxes;

• Certain folding systems, like those for tail-booms, stabilators, rotorblades, and wings;

• Arresting gear, like tail hooks and drag chutes;

• Weapons storage and delivery systems;

• Certain flight control systems that are damage-adaptive, failure-adaptive, or threat-adaptive;

• Certain non-surface-based flight control systems, like thrust-vectoring gas ports;

• Certain radar altimeters with LPI (low probability of intercept) capabilities;

• Air-to-air refueling systems;

• Certain unmanned aerial vehicles;

• Lift fans, clutches, and roll posts for STOVL aircraft;

• Certain helmets incorporating optical sights or slewing devices;

• Certain computers designed for defense aircraft, including those that control weapons;

• Hardened systems that have been designed to withstand impact from ammunition;

• Thrust reversers for defense aircraft;

• “Classified” equipment

Each of these categories typically includes the subsidiary parts. You will note in looking at this list that the aviation equipment that remains subject to the ITARs is mostly equipment that has unique defense capabilities. Other aircraft parts are typically controlled under the Commerce Department’s regulations (the EARs). There is an entire series of export commodity classification numbers (the ”600 series”) that is dedicated to defense parts that are regulated under the Commerce Department’s regulations for export purposes.

What this means is that the mere fact that an aircraft part is destined for a defense aircraft does not mean that it is subject to the State Department’s jurisdiction! Look carefully to see whether your export is in one of the above categories, because if it is not then it may be controlled under the Commerce Department’s regulations (the EARs). For example, you could be selling aircraft parts to the Indian Ministry of Defence, but those parts might be subject to the EARs and not the ITARs if they fall outside of the scope of the jurisdiction that has been retained by the State Department. So the fact that we are selling to the Indian Ministry of Defence means that we should double-check whether ITARs may apply; but there is still a good chance that the aircraft parts might fall outside of the ITARs.

Note also that there are non-aircraft parts that can be installed on aircraft, and that can be State-Department controlled under non-aircraft categories. For example, certain guidance and navigation systems can be controlled under ITAR category XII (which typically applies to “Fire Control, Laser, Imaging, and Guidance Equipment”). Thus, it important to have a working knowledge of the entire Munitions List (the list of things to which the ITARs apply) when deciding whether your export is potentially covered under the ITARs.

Also remember that we are talking about export of aircraft parts – not complete aircraft. While many defense aircraft parts might have been removed from the ITARs, the defense aircraft on which they are installed are often still controlled under the ITARs.


Today, most aircraft parts are subject to the Commerce Department export regulations (the EARs). Only a fairly narrow range of aircraft parts with specific defense functions remain subject to the State Department’s export regulations (the ITARs). In each case, though, it is important to follow the process for determining the compliance path, as both of these export regulatory systems include licensing provisions. Remember: if an aircraft part comes into a U. S.-based MRO from abroad, then the return to the non-U. S. customer is likely to be treated as an export that is subject to one of these regulatory systems!