The terms “acceptable to” and “accepted by”, although they sound similar, do not mean the same thing. Each has a very specific meaning from the FAA’s perspective.
If we look to the guidance the FAA issues to its inspectors, FAA Order 8900.1, Volume 3, Chapter 1, Section 1, Safety Assurance System: General, we see that it describes general processes for “approval” or “acceptance” of certain operations, programs, documents, procedures, methods, or systems by the FAA. Unfortunately, Order 8900.1 does not address the term “acceptable to”, which is used in many sections of the regulations. And FAA inspectors have applied these terms inconsistently, which has added to the confusion.
In order to remove the confusion, the FAA recently issued a Notice to explain what each of these terms means to the FAA, and what it expects for someone to comply with each term:
“Acceptable To“. An item is acceptable to the FAA, if “the FAA’s active review and acceptance prior to use is not normally required.” However, even though the FAA doesn’t have to accept an item prior to use, the responsible person must be able to the FAA, usually after the fact, why the item is an acceptable practice or procedure. This explanation may be as simple as showing the FAA that the practice or procedure is contained in an FAA advisory circular or other published guidance, the Original Equipment Manufacturer’s published procedures, or relevant information from an ASTM International standard.
To further explain the meaning of “acceptable to”, the FAA uses the example of torquing bolts to explain that doing so by “feel” would not be a procedure acceptable to the FAA. Instead, if a maintenance provider were to follow the acceptable industry practice of using a properly calibrated torque wrench to ensure the required torque values are achieved, that would be acceptable to the FAA.
“Accepted By“. In order to be accepted by the FAA, an item must be submitted to the FAA for review and acceptance prior to use. This means the item meets the FAA’s applicable criteria, the FAA has no objection to the submitted item, and the FAA has communicated that acceptance to the person submitting the item. The FAA also clarifies that “accepted by the FAA” doesn’t simply mean that “the item was given to a representative of the FAA and that person received (accepted) it on behalf of the FAA).”
The FAA also notes that an operator’s failure to submit an item prior to implementation, even though the operator was required to do so, “does not mean the person would be in violation of the underlying regulation requiring the item to be “acceptable.'” But it does mean the operator would likely be in violation of a regulation requiring that he or she submit the item to the FAA for acceptance.
So, the next time you run into these terms, whether in the regulations or FAA guidance, you will now know what the FAA expects for each. And if an FAA inspector tells you otherwise, you can simply refer him or her to the Notice for clarification.