Aviation Business News

Legal Matters: Managing the queue

photo_camera Maintenance and service check of an airplane in the large white hangar. Airplane workshop and repair station

Washington Aviation Group attorney-at-law Ryan Aggergaard looks at strategies for addressing long delays in repair station certification

It is no secret that obtaining a repair station certificate takes time. As air travel continues to increase, it seems from our vantage point that more and more companies are seeing the opportunity owning a repair station represents. That means (anecdotally, at least) more applications are being submitted for repair station certificates. That means that the queue for obtaining a repair station certificate is getting longer.

How much longer? From our conversations with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and industry, it can take up to 15 months just to get assigned resources to begin the review of a repair station applicant’s submittal. For a business that has to develop manuals, lease facilities, buy or contract for the proper tooling and equipment, and employ at least a skeleton staff until fully operational (all necessary to the completion of the application), a wait of more than a year to receive a certificate and get to work can be extremely draining of resources – often fatally so. What, then, is a prospective repair station to do?

Although we have not yet found a reliable way to speed up or jump to the top of the queue, there are a few paths that can help avoid unnecessary delays and even short circuit the process in certain circumstances.

Be ready: critical to avoiding delays

First, be ready. While this does not speed up the process, it is critical to avoiding unnecessary delay. At a recent industry event, the FAA stated that one of the causes of delay in drawing down the queue is the failure of applicants to be fully ready for review. This means that FAA personnel are forced to spend extra time with the applicant, ensuring that the application is properly completed and that the facility, equipment, tooling, data and personnel are in place for demonstration and inspection. This necessarily diverts resources from other, properly prepared applicants.

To address these delays, the FAA has considered a system by which an applicant who is not yet ready for approval when their application comes to the top of the queue could be put back to the end of the queue.

Imagine waiting 15 months for a review and then being told you have to go to the end of the line because you didn’t have your ducks in a row!

The best way to avoid this – for those who are just going the direct new application route – is to make sure everything is in place prior to submitting the application.

If that is too costly, make sure you stay in close contact with the FAA so that as your position in the queue gets nearer to having resources allocated, you can get in place the things you need prior to your application being assigned for review.

Consider purchasing an existing repair station

Another route for those with the means and the contacts is to purchase an existing repair station and modify it to your own needs. As a general rule, this is frowned upon and discouraged by the regulators because the regulations don’t really contemplate a transfer of a repair station certificate. What they do contemplate is either a transfer of repair station assets (which can necessitate a new or amended certificate), or certificate change due to a change in repair station name or location or a request to add or amend ratings.

However, recognising the challenge presented by the aforementioned queue delays, the FAA has shown itself willing to work with applicants and holders to be flexible in making use of existing repair station resources that may be under-utilised. FAA employees have been willing to facilitate the purchase of a repair station by a new business, even when it involves a facility transfer from one flight standards district office (FSDO) to another.

As more applications are being submitted for repair station certificates, the queue for obtaining them is getting longer

If you are seeking to start a repair station and have identified a certificate holder willing to sell, our recommendation is to file your application as you ordinarily would and pursue the transfer of the certificate in parallel. The benefits of this approach are: 1) if the transfer is refused by the FAA you are still in the queue and have lost no time; and 2) if you do consummate the transfer, you can still pursue the certificate and upon issue, you will have another repair station certificate ready to use.

This leads to a corollary: if you are the holder of a repair station certificate and are contemplating shutting down the business and surrendering that certificate, we recommend holding on to it! It is a valuable piece of property that you may be able to market and sell to someone in need.

Because this transfer process is not a preferred method, the window of availability of this solution is one that could close at any time, so if you are considering this option, it is best to act expeditiously.

Establish a satellite of your existing repair station

One other option, albeit a limited one, is to establish a satellite of your existing repair station. This, of course, assumes you already operate a certificated repair station and are seeking to expand operations. This bit of advice will unfortunately be of no help to a new company. The regulations contemplate the creation of satellite repair stations under the managerial control of the certificated repair station.

There are several limitations to this strategy, but it does allow a new site to get up and running. First, it is geographically limited. A satellite may only be located in the same country as the certificated repair station with managerial control.

However, the availability of this option remains a good route for repair stations abroad seeking to open additional locations, as we have been told that the FAA is diverting international resources to assist in drawing down the domestic application queue.

Second, the satellite repair station is limited to the scope of the ratings already held by the certificated repair station exercising managerial control. This means that a satellite is not a great option for starting a separate facility with a completely different menu of ratings.

However, as long as the certificated repair station holds the rating, the satellite may hold it as well. It is therefore possible for the managerial repair station to amend its certificate to add ratings to encompass the ratings that the satellite repair station is intended to perform. Amending the certificate in coordination with the repair station’s principal maintenance inspector (PMI) is (usually) a much faster process than the current 15-month queue.

One additional consideration for the satellite repair station route is that both the managerial and satellite repair stations must meet the requirements for each rating. This means having appropriate equipment and tooling. It may be cost-prohibitive or impractical to have two sets of identical tooling, especially when you do not intend to perform a particular rating at the managerial facility.

A solution for this is to act after the rating is issued to the managerial facility to place the equipment and tooling at the satellite facility to satisfy the rating requirements at that location, with a signed license agreement stating that the equipment and tooling will be transferred to the managerial facility when necessary to perform the work there. You will effectively have the equipment and tooling to satisfy the requirements at both locations, but for practical purposes will not have to move the equipment to the managerial facility because such maintenance will not be performed there.

Plan and be patient

None of the above solutions is perfect. Each takes time, planning and money. They also involve engaging the FAA in dialogue early in the process to make sure that everyone is on the same page every step of the way. Because this can be complicated and involve some delicate conversations, we recommend consulting qualified legal counsel as you prepare to go down the repair station path. With a bit of planning and patience, you can smooth your way more rapidly to an operational repair station.

Visit washingtonaviation.com for more information on the law firm, which supports the aviation community.

This feature was first published in MRO Management – April 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.

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