Turbine Operators Get Some Relief on Their Current Maintenance Program
The FAA released their legal interpretation of the word “current” as used in 14 CFR 91.409(f)(3). Here is the excerpt from that regulation:
(f) Selection of inspection program under paragraph (e) of this section. The registered owner or operator of each airplane or turbine-powered rotorcraft described in paragraph (e) of this section must select, identify in the aircraft maintenance records, and use one of the following programs for the inspection of the aircraft:
(3) A current inspection program recommended by the manufacturer.
This three page memo gets somewhat detailed and you can get a copy of it here:
Basically the gist of it clarifies what a current inspection program really means. As an operator of a turbine aircraft meeting the above description you are required to maintain your aircraft in accordance with the inspection program recommended by the manufacturer. Now here is where it gets sticky.
If your aircraft is older, which the majority are, then the manufacturer has probably issued many revisions and amendments to the original inspection program. Most people were under the misconception that “current” meant keeping their program up-to-date with all those changes issued by the manufacturer, and therefore maintaining their aircraft in accordance with such changes.
This Legal Interpretation states that the “operator is not so obliged”. The real meaning of the word “current” in this regulation is “current at the time of delivery of the aircraft”. They also state that only the FAA can mandate rules that are binding on an operator and that such a mandate would be adopted in the form of either an AD or an amendment to the operating rules.
What effect can this have on an operator? Here is a real world example regarding Aerospatiale Alouette and Lama helicopters. These helicopters date back to as far as the late 1950’s. The original manufacturers’ inspection program did not contain any calendar inspection requirements for components. In other words, specific components had an assigned Time Between Overhaul (TBO) and/or a Life Limit for retirement. Somewhere along the long life span of these helicopters Aerospatiale, now Eurocopter, decided to revise the inspection program in the maintenance manual and added a 10 year calendar requirement for the inspection of components. According to the FAA’s own Legal Interpretation contained within the above memo, operators of these turbine helicopters are not so obligated to comply with any maintenance procedures that were not contained in the original current inspection program at the time of delivery