July 26, 2004
Alexandria, VA -- The Federal Aviation Administration released the aviation industry’s long-awaited Final Rule authorizing Light Sport Aircraft and Sport Pilots on July 20, 2004. This watershed document recognizes and legitimizes a new simplified category of aircraft, pilot training, and system of maintenance. Noteworthy are the strengthened maintenance requirements that this rule incorporates over the original rule proposed some four years ago.
While the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) has been generally supportive of the new aircraft certification and pilot training standards, PAMA did take strong exception to the unacceptably low maintenance standards initially introduced in the proposal. The final rule’s strengthened maintenance training requirements are a significant improvement.
“PAMA commends FAA for listening to the maintenance community and producing a regulation that can help ensure a safe new category of aircraft,” said PAMA president Brian Finnegan.
“With a few caveats,” continued Mr. Finnegan, “PAMA supports the final Sport Pilot rule and looks forward to actively participating in its successful implementation.”
While FAA certificated Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics and appropriately qualified Repair Stations are authorized to perform Light Sport Aircraft maintenance, the new rule also authorizes two new categories of Repairmen: Inspection and Maintenance. PAMA objected to a number of low training standards in the original proposal, many of which have now been acceptably addressed in the final rule, which is scheduled to become effective on September 1, 2004.
Chief among the improvements called for by PAMA is the strengthening of the training requirements for Repairmen with a Maintenance Rating and the applicability of FAR Part 43, Maintenance Performance Rules. The inclusion of the Part 43 performance standard helps assure for Sport Aircraft the same level of safety enjoyed by the rest of the certificated aviation community. In addition, FAA has retained the ability to issue Airworthiness Directives and has granted aircraft manufacturers the authority to issue safety bulletins.
The final rule’s increase in the training requirements for Repairmen with a Maintenance Rating for fixed wing aircraft will better prepare Repairmen to assure an airworthy aircraft. While still substantially below the training requirements required for full Airframe and Powerplant certification, by definition Light Sport Aircraft will exclude many systems included in traditional A&P training programs. Among the systems excluded from Sport aircraft are turbine engines, retractable landing gear, cabin pressurization and air conditioning, variable pitch propellers, and auxiliary power units. Further, the Repairman with a Maintenance rating will only be permitted to perform those tasks specifically identified by the aircraft manufacturer. Most engine maintenance will likely not be allowed.
“PAMA does remain concerned,” cautioned Mr. Finnegan, “about the ability of Light Sport Aircraft manufacturers to develop and deliver appropriate maintenance training programs for this new category of maintenance technician. FAA must remain vigilant in their oversight of those programs.”
The importance of accurate documentation and recordkeeping is also essential to assuring the integrity of any responsible maintenance program. However, PAMA is optimistic that government, industry, and operators can work together to assure the safe implementation of this important expansion recreational flying.
“The future has always promised a world of personal aviation,” said Mr. Finnegan. “This is really our first giant leap in that direction.”