Repair station security rule reaches key regulatory milestone

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The White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has begun a review process of the Transport Security Administration's repair station security rule, marking one of the last major steps needed to lift a ban on the US Federal Aviation Administration certifying repair stations outside of the USA.

The OMB received the final rule from the Department of Homeland Security on 16 March, records on the office's website show. The office has a period of 90 days to review the rule.

The FAA and DHS have been communicating about making preparations for when the rules go into effect, says Darcy Reed, repair station branch manager for the FAA's aircraft maintenance division. He was speaking from the sidelines of the 21 March Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) symposium in Arlington, Va.

ARSA has been vocal about lifting the ban since it was enacted in 2011, arguing that it has stifled competitions for US companies looking to open repair stations abroad.

If the OMB clears the rule, it would lay the groundwork for audits of the foreign repair stations, says Marshall Filler, ARSA's managing director and general counsel. The association foresees it taking between nine and 24 months for the new approvals to go through.

While the final rule entering the OMB review process is significant, ARSA cautions that it does not mean the end of the regulatory process.

"We're not out of the woods yet, by any stretch of the imagination," says Filler.

About 80 applications from Part 145 repair stations to open locations outside of the US are currently pending approval, says Reed. He estimates about 65 of those repair stations are in the European Union.

ARSA says it is working with the agency to address ways for efficiently processing the applications after the ban is lifted.

"We're trying to help the FAA get ahead of the curve, and help them with the backlog of the applications," says Filler.

Atlas Air has felt some of the effects of the repair station on its maintenance strategy, says Mark Swearingin, vice-president technical operations for the cargo airline.

"We've had some cases where we've had some interpretations that even adding a new piece of equipment to an existing repair station was something that potentially could be held up," he says, adding that the rule has kept it from working with some maintenance providers.

"From our standpoint there are a couple of other vendors out there that we would like to go try and take a look at, but they're off the table at this point."

Congress required the TSA to develop foreign repair security rules in 2003, an action that was supposed to be completed by 2004. However, the legislative process has dragged on for the past decade after the TSA missed a second deadline in 2008 to pass the rules.