In a major victory for the aviation industry, on December 26, 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) withdrew its faulty legal interpretation of maintenance duty time limitations prescribed in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) section 121.377.
Specifically, the agency reversed course on its May 18, 2010 legal interpretation meant to clarify the application of the rest provisions and equivalency standards under the regulation. However, the FAA erroneously concluded that the rule rigidly required one day off out of every seven days.
A December 2010 complaint from the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) prompted the agency’s reevaluation. ARSA noted that the agency’s interpretation overlooked the plain language of the rule and presented an impermissible deviation from longstanding FAA construction and application. The rule clearly states the period of required rest is “24 consecutive hours during any seven consecutive days, or the equivalent thereof within any one calendar month.” (Unfortunately, the FAA interpretation conditioned operation of the underlined phrase to emergency situations).
In response to ARSA’s complaint, the FAA published a notice in the Federal Register on April 15, 2011 requesting comments on its interpretation. On June 14, 2011, ARSA’s comments reiterated its assertion that the interpretation changed the plain language of the regulation without following the Administrative Procedure Act and must therefore be rescinded.
After two years, the agency finally agreed with ARSA’s position. In a Dec. 26, 2012 response to ARSA, the FAA acknowledged its error and stated that, “The requirement for equivalency lies in the amount of rest given, not in the way the schedule itself operates or is developed.”
This regrettable delay has already imposed serious consequences on the industry. Air carriers, and their maintenance providers, rewrote schedules at significant cost in order to accommodate a wrongheaded bureaucratic action. It is notable that many other groups including Airlines for America, the Transport Workers Union of America, and the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association joined ARSA’s position in their comments to the regulatory docket.
This victory clearly establishes the value of actively engaging with the FAA when it strays from its regulatory perimeters.