Maintenance Duty Times

Earlier this month, the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) sent out a press release regarding the FAA’s recent reversal of its maintenance duty time legal interpretation. In May 2010, the FAA issued a legal interpretation of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) section 121.377. The legal interpretation meant to clarify the application of the rest provisions and equivalency standards under the regulation — “Within the United States, each certificate holder (or person performing maintenance or preventive maintenance functions for it) shall relieve each person performing maintenance or preventive maintenance from duty for a period of at least 24 consecutive hours during any seven consecutive days, or the equivalent thereof within any one calendar month.”

The FAA’s legal interpretation in May 2010 basically stated that the rule rigidly required one day off for every seven days worked. The equivalency part of the rule was only meant to cover emergency situations.

From a legal standpoint, it is difficult to argue ARSA’s point. The rule specifically says “or” when talking about the two scenarios in the rule. To alter the rule by issuing a legal interpretation is wrong. If the FAA wanted to require a day off be given for every seven days worked with the exception of emergency situations, it should have issued an NPRM to change the wording to clearly state that in the rule — not go around the rule by issuing a legal interpretation.

Since the issue of maintenance duty times is being brought up, I would question whether the maintenance industry has been ignored when it comes to duty times and the effects of fatigue on safety and job performance. Pilots have strict and well-defined duty time restrictions — yet, the mechanics who are responsible for maintaining the airworthiness of aircraft only have one brief paragraph in Part 121.377 that addresses duty time.

One could argue that duty time limitations are practically non-existent for maintenance personnel. A total of four days off in any given calendar month? That’s supposed to prevent fatigue?

I asked Dale Forton, president of the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) for his thoughts on the FAA’s legal interpretation reversal. He says, “PAMA believes that looking at days worked alone totally misses the mark when it comes to fatigue. There are numerous factors that must be considered as a whole to have a viable fatigue prevention system.

“Some of the issues concern hours worked in a day. A technician might work three days in a row of 16 hours each and become fatigued way before a six-day work week ever becomes an issue. Also, a technician who normally works until midnight might become fatigued after only two hours of overtime due to working past the time he would normally go to sleep.

“Additionally, what the person is doing while off duty can play a large role in the person’s ability to perform their duties safely. A technician who works nights could easily spend their day cutting down trees or cultivating a garden. Many of these tasks are more labor intensive than the actual aircraft maintenance.”

It seems when it comes to maintenance duty time, the FAA set the bar pretty low. I would even to go so far as to say it just placed the bar on the ground for everyone to take a small step over.

When it comes to following the regulations and professionalism, I believe Dr. Tony Kern, CEO of Convergent Performance, put it best during his presentation at the 2011 NBAA Maintenance Management Conference. He said, “We have a group of people that say, ‘I’m a professional because I follow all of the rules.’ I would like to rephrase that — ‘I’m a professional because I can follow the minimum standards.’”

Does your company follow the minimum standards when it comes to duty times? Or have you set stricter maintenance duty time limitations in place to protect your company and employees?

We welcome your feedback!

Thanks for reading.

Joe Escobar 

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D.O.M. magazine is the premier magazine for aviation maintenance management professionals. Its management-focused editorial provides information maintenance managers need and want including business best practices, professional development, regulatory, quality management, legal issues and more. The digital version of D.O.M. magazine is available for free on all devices (iOS, Android, and Amazon Kindle).

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