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Thu, Aug 31, 2006

FAA Makes It Official: SBs Are NOT Mandatory

Says NTSB Judge's Ruling Confused Issue

The FAA has spoken: Service bulletins (SBs) are not —- we'll repeat that, not -- mandatory for most Part 91 aircraft operators. That's good news for private pilots -- and is exactly the decision the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association had encouraged and expected.

After all... up until an NTSB administrative law judge clouded the issue two months ago, that was everyone's understanding -- that a service bulletin was the recommendation from the manufacturer on how best to keep planes flying safely, but wasn't a mandatory rule.

But that was before the NTSB judge ruled against an aircraft mechanic, stating that by not using the manufacturer's prescribed inspection technique while rebuilding an engine, the mechanic had violated regulations -- implying that any manufacturer SB or instruction for doing something required by regulation took on the force of law itself.

Not so, said the FAA's Assistant Chief Counsel for Regulations Rebecca MacPherson. In an "interpretation" of the regulations to answer a question raised by the Cessna Pilot Association's Mike Busch almost a year ago, McPherson says .that while properly heeding the bulletins is certainly encouraged, manufacturers may not make them mandatory.

"A contrary result would lead to serious legal objections," wrote MacPherson. "It would mean that our regulations effectively authorize manufacturers to issue "substantive rules," as that term is used in the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), i.e., it would enable them to impose legal requirements on the public."

In essence, the FAA ruled, making SBs mandatory would give manufacturers regulatory control -- essentially bypassing the FAA, and circumventing its entire airworthiness directive process. You can imagine what the agency thought about that.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.aopa.org, www.ntsb.gov

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