PMAs: safety, availability, savings. But they still can’t cure the smart-ass Dad

by Jason Dickstein

It is exchanges like this that keep me out of the running for that father of the year award.

It is always frustrating to be out of something you need, and that is especially true with aircraft parts. A component that is missing from your inventory can be a real headache when it causes your aircraft to be AOG. And when the manufacturer tells you there is a 360 day lead time, then you really want to pull out your hair.

It’s worse than a smart-ass dad.

That’s one of the things I love about PMA parts. PMA manufacturers have a variety of reasons for choosing the parts they choose to build, and one of them is parts unavailability. When a part is needed, but it is unavailable in the industry, that sets the perfect condition for a PMA part to enter the market in order to fill that need.
What is a PMA part? Well, let’s start with the abbreviation, “PMA.” It stands for Parts Manufacturer Approval. This is the approval that the FAA issues in order to approve a manufacturer to produce an aircraft part that is intended for a specific installation.
The PMA is really three approvals in one.

First, it is a design approval. This means that the applicant has to produce evidence that the part meets all of the applicable FAA regulations, and that it will work properly in the intended installation. These are usually the same regulations that applied to the original type-certificated equipment, but if the FAA has changed the regulations or otherwise raised the standards then the PMA usually must meet the new, higher regulatory standards. The applicant’s evidence will be reviewed by engineers at the local Aircraft Certification Office, who may be assisted by data approvals from designated engineering representatives (DERs).

It is also a production approval. To meet this element of the approval process, the applicant has to create a production quality assurance system. The regulations that apply to this system are the same exact regulations that apply to a production certificate (the FAA’s PMA regulations actually point to the production certificate quality system regulations in 14 C.F.R. § 21.137). The purpose of the quality assurance system is to ensure that every part released from the quality system meets the FAA-approved design.

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