Thursday, February 09, 2017

Federal Aviation Administration Resumes Routine Safety Rule-Making During President Donald Trump Regulatory Freeze: Agency’s directives mandate or propose inspections, repairs or parts replacement for planes

The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor
February 9, 2017 6:13 p.m. ET

The Federal Aviation Administration has resumed issuing routine rules calling for safety fixes to aircraft, following a 19-day pause prompted by President Donald Trump’s government-wide regulatory freeze.

The first mandatory safety orders, called airworthiness directives, were published in the Federal Register at the start of this week and five more appeared for public inspection Thursday on the publication’s website. In January, before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, some two dozen such rules were released by the FAA.

An FAA spokeswoman said Thursday the directives “are critical to ensuring continued aircraft safety” and that goal “will not be compromised.”

FAA safety directives mandating or proposing inspection, repair or replacement of specific aircraft parts or systems are important parts of the agency’s daily activities. Hundreds of them are issued annually, affecting everything from jumbo jets to private aircraft to gliders.

Except for unusual circumstances that require emergency action, cover an unusually large number of aircraft or entail particularly expensive fixes, the rules typically are handled by career FAA officials with little or no involvement of political appointees at the FAA or its parent agency, the Transportation Department.

But in the wake of Mr. Trump’s executive order putting all new and pending regulations on hold for 60 days, the FAA’s normally low-profile, routine safety directives temporarily were held up by the freeze.

The White House order allowed for exemptions due to urgent concerns about health, safety or national security, though it took time for the Trump team to determine that FAA airworthiness directives fell into one of those categories, according to people familiar with the process.

Broader FAA rule-making initiatives that were poised to be released in late 2016 or early 2017, including new standards for allowing unmanned vehicles to fly over crowds of people or inhabited areas, appear to be held up as part of Mr. Trump’s regulatory freeze.

Separately last week, a broad coalition of trade associations representing battery makers, manufacturers of electronic devices and retail companies urged newly confirmed Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to swiftly release pending final rules for transporting lithium batteries as cargo on aircraft.

The letter signed by nearly two dozen groups, including Apple Inc. and the association that lobbies for most large U.S. carriers, said the goal is “assuring safety and avoiding disruption to supply chains.“ Industry officials said it’s too early to tell how the Trump administration will respond to that request.

But regarding FAA airworthiness directives, those posted Thursday by the Federal Register highlighted the routine nature of such rules. One calls for repetitive inspections of certain bulkheads to check for corrosion on various versions of Boeing Co. 747 jumbo jets. Another mandates checks of parts of hydraulic systems on more than 100 Airbus SE helicopters, reducing the number of choppers affected but still indicating that the underlying problem, under extreme circumstance, could result in loss of control.

In most cases, however, manufacturers already have issued voluntary alerts to airlines about problems and fixes before the FAA puts out its follow-on mandatory rules.

The FAA actions are considered important because sometimes the agency changes some details or speeds up required compliance times. FAA airworthiness directives also are tracked by foreign regulators, who normally apply them for carriers under their jurisdiction.

Original article can be found here:

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