Atlas counts 26 Boeing 747-400s and seven 747-8s among the 47 aircraft it owns or operates. The carrier's reliance on widebodies makes it particularly vulnerable to the ban, because 747 heavy maintenance options in the U.S. are so scarce. “Widebody maintenance globally is a precious commodity,” Swearingin acknowledges. The carrier's 747-400 fleet required 11 C Checks and four D Checks in 2012.
ARSA's 2011 survey on the ban's impact collected responses from 36 MRO providers. Twenty-seven said they either had an application in the queue or were planning on submitting one after the ban is lifted.
Respondents said they were losing a combined $18 million in annual revenue because of the ban's impact on operations.
Such direct bottom-line damage means the industry will embrace a less-than-ideal rule just to end the stalemate. TSA published its draft of the rule in November 2009. ARSA submitted 30 pages of suggested fixes and recommended a supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. By last August, ARSA was among 12 aviation associations urging TSA to just push out a final rule so FAA could end the stalemate. “The ban has put ARSA in the position of asking for a rule it doesn't want,” says Sarah MacLeod, executive director.
So far, the ban hasn't drawn foreign retaliation. Karl Specht, the European Aviation Safety Agency's (EASA) Continuing Airworthiness Organization manager, says his agency is “still issuing certificates for initial approvals in the U.S., and we will continue to do so.” The U.S. is home to about 1,200 EASA-approved repair stations.
Industry got some good news in mid-March when the White House Office of Management and Budget—which reviews pending federal regulations—acknowledged receipt of TSA's proposed rule. TSA Administrator John Pistole told the House Transportation security subcommittee in March that the final rule “should” be out by year-end.
Once the rule is out, FAA must plow through the backlog of applications, which is likely to be a slow process.
FAA's Reed says 35 of these are from repair stations based in the European Union (EU). The U.S.-EU bilateral allows EASA to conduct the initial inspections and other on-site legwork on such applicants, leaving FAA with minimal work to grant certificates. Applicants from countries without U.S. bilaterals will require more work by FAA, which could pose another problem.
Sequestration-related cuts, if not restored soon, mean furloughs of one or two days per pay period for thousands of FAA employees, including inspectors who help certify new repair shops. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told delegates at ARSA's event on March 22 that the inspector workforce would prioritize existing projects over new ones. While he did not specify which projects could be tabled, a new repair station certificate application certainly qualifies as, well, new.