Over the past decade the FAA has increased its use of electronic communication methods substantially. The Agency use to view communicating electronically with aircraft owners, users, maintainers, and the general public as a convenient additional way to get its message out. In 2022, in appears, the FAA has decided to cross the electronic Rubicon to now rely solely on electronic communication methods. That is both great news for General Aviation and very big a problem for General Aviation. Its great news in that now aircraft owners and maintainers have near immediate access to the most current information available about the aircraft they operate and maintain. It’s a problem for some segments of General Aviation since not every owner checks the internet for maintenance updates before flying. For example, while I worked for the FAA’s Legal Office an oft debated question was the application to the facts of a case the phrase in §43.13, “current manufacturer’s maintenance manual or Instructions for Continued Airworthiness.” Does that phrase mean the most current manual or ICA the manufacturer has published or the latest version the owner or maintainer possesses? Owing to the time it takes for a design approval holder to mail a new manual update to “persons required … to comply with any of those instructions” (see, §21.50) which version of the ICA must be followed could materially affect whether the owner or maintainer complied with the rules. Now, with the advent of the FAA’s new Dynamic Regulatory System or DRS, the agency seems to want everyone to rely exclusively on the DRS for that information – no more mailing of important documents.
Just a couple of weeks ahead of the change, the FAA announced that effective in mid-August of 2022 it would no longer mail copies of Airworthiness Directives (AD’s) to registered owners, as had been the practice for many decades. Now owners and maintainers must check the DRS for updates to see if the FAA has published an AD that might affect the operation of the aircraft or require a maintainer to perform extra tasks before approving the aircraft for return to service. The FAA used to carefully consider that not every aircraft owner (particularly in some segments of General Aviation) even had a home computer much less access to high-speed internet service. Apparently, no longer. The FAA’s announcement that it will end mailing hard copies of AD’s to registered owners means that the agency is, in essence, requiring that to be an aircraft owner you must have a computer and internet access. Further, the burden is now shifted from the FAA to the owner. An aircraft owner cannot wait to get an AD in the mail, you must search the DRS for applicable AD’s. How often do you have to do that? Monthly? Weekly? Before each flight?
Some thoughts to remember going forward. If you are contemplating an aircraft purchase, part of your due diligence now must include the DRS. You cannot rely solely on the paper records the previous owner will give you at the time ownership transfers. If you are a maintenance provider, you are likely already use to searching the FAA’s Regulatory and Guidance Library or other electronic databases for applicable AD’s. Those other FAA databases are now subsumed into the DRS so get used to using the DRS. If you are already an aircraft owner, proactively check the DRS for new AD’s applicable to your aircraft and check them carefully for applicability and the time in which maintenance tasks are due so you can have your maintenance provider do what is necessary to keep your aircraft flying. I still believe the DRS is, on balance, a good tool. Just be aware that the FAA is now, to a greater and greater extent, relying on it as the agency’s exclusive method of communication.
Currently Of Counsel to the firm of Paul A. Lange, LLC, Mr. Christopher Poreda served as the FAA’s New England Regional Counsel from 2002 to 2015. A graduate of the US Air Force Academy in 1974, he flew F-4 Phantoms for the US Air Force in Europe and at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, NV, before serving as a flight instructor for the Air Force. After leaving the Air Force, he earned a law degree from Northeastern University and clerked for the Massachusetts Appeals Court before working as an associate for Bingham, Dana & Gould in Boston until joining the FAA’s legal office in 1990. Attorney Poreda served as a staff attorney for the FAA and as the counsel to the Engine and Propeller Directorate at the FAA’s New England Region before assuming a management role for the FAA’s legal office in 2002. He retired from Federal service in 2015 after 37 years with the US Air Force and the FAA. He has taught Aviation Law to law students at New England Law, Boston, and undergraduates at Southern New Hampshire University. He remains an active flight instructor in the Boston area.