If you work for a dual-certificated (FAA & EASA) repair station then you have probably been wondering what is going on with documentation requirements. You are probably throwing around terms like “MAG 6,” “8130-3” and “Bilateral Agreements” at parties and around the water cooler.
And if you haven’t been discussing these items, then you should be, because they represent a fragile system that is in danger of breaking down and needlessly inhibiting your business.
In 2016, the US and European aviation authorities, FAA and EASA, updated a guidance document. It was known as the Maintenance Annex Guidance (MAG). The MAG’s purpose is to provide guidance on how to comply with the Maintenance Annex, which is an agreement between the US and the Europe to share information and oversight duties
on repair stations.
In essence, the Maintenance Annex says that if a US repair station wants to hold EU repair station certification, the EU will rely on the FAA findings to support the application. The metrics used are: 1) the repair station must meet the FAA’s regulations (which it already does if it is a FAA repair station) and; 2) the repair station must also meet a short list of European special conditions which add subtle nuances to the rules. For example, US law says that a repair station has to complete an approval for return to service for the aircraft records. The European Special Condition is that the record has to made on an 8130-3 tag. This is a commercial norm for component maintenance but it is not a legal requirement under US law.
The problem arose when the guidance document was used to create a new European Special Condition that does not exist in the Maintenance Annex. That new Special Condition was published in MAG revision six (known as “MAG 6”) and it required specific documentation as a condition of acceptance of parts. But the MAG 6 documentation rules were written more narrowly than European law, so they failed to allow repair stations to accept the parts that they need to accept on both sides of the Atlantic.
The essence of the problem? Good, airworthy parts made by US production approval holders can’t be used because they don’t have the right paperwork, according to the MAG.
The FAA recognized that this was a problem but the FAA did not want to immediately renege on the agreement with Europe’ so they created several temporary solutions, which were supposed to keep industry in business, pending resolution of the underlying language. It has now been about a year since these two temporary solutions were issued and they have both been recently renewed for an additional year as talks continue.
The first temporary solution is found in FAA Notice 8900.429 (previously numbered as FAA Notice 8900.380). This Notice allows repair stations to inspect and approve parts for return to service that are not accompanied by the MAG-mandated documentation. They can then use those parts in repairs.
Checking the airworthiness of a part is a very normal function that is performed by repair stations around the world, but the language of MAG 6 prevented that sort of normal function. So the FAA issued the Notice in order to reopen this function to normal usage. The Notice simply permits repair stations to inspect parts that don’t have 8130-3 tags and find that they are airworthy based on other credible evidence (like evidence of having been produced by a FAA Production Approval Holder).
The Notice helps businesses with airworthy inventory to sell to repair stations by explicitly recognizing repair stations’ right to receive, inspect, and approve for return to service any article for which they are rated.
Recognizing that some repair stations are still uncomfortable in light of the MAG language calling for 8130-3 tags on inventory, the FAA has issued a second important policy. This second important temporary “fix” is found in the FAA’s Function Code 56 program. This program created a class of limited Designated Airworthiness Representatives (DARs) and gave them a very limited function that permits them to issue 8130-3 tags for new parts that have certain types of known evidence supporting their sourcing from an FAA production approval holder.
They are only allowed to issue the tags in an administrative role, where airworthiness has already been found. Under the current policy, this is limited to new parts marked under FAA Part 45 (like PMA and TSOA) where the installer would be able to rely on the marking, and new parts that bear a manufacturer’s certificate of conformity to FAA standards. In those two cases, issuing an 8130-3 tag is truly an administrative function that requires no independent airworthiness analysis because the issuer relies on the airworthiness finding of the manufacturer. A further limitation is that the DAR must function in the environment of an FAA-accredited distributor, so that the DAR can rely on the quality assurance system. This limited DAR function permits some of the “low-hanging fruit” to be tagged with 8130-3 tags.
Although these two FAA policies don’t solve all of the problems wrought by MAG 6, they give the aviation community another year of normal operation while the FAA works with EASA on a permanent solution to the documentation problems created by MAG 6.