The NTSB recently affirmed a six month suspension of a repair station’s certificate for FAR violations, one of which was the repair station’s alleged failure to follow a manufacturer’s service instructions. In Administrator v. Millenium Propeller Systems, Inc. the FAA was seeking revocation of Millenium’s air agency certificate, which included propeller, limited-specialized service, and limited non-destructive inspection ratings based upon eight counts alleging a variety of FAR violations. Count Four of the FAA’s complaint alleged that Millenium did not comply with McCauley’s overhaul requirements when it overhauled a propeller and returned it to service, in violation of FAR §§ 43.13(a)11 and (b)12 and 145.57(a)13. After a hearing, Judge Mullins found that Millenium had failed to comply with the manufacturer’s instructions, but that Millenium’s failure was only a “technical” violation. Based upon this violation and the other violations proved by the FAA, Judge Mullins suspended Millenium’s certificate, rather than revoking it. Both Millenium and the FAA appealed Judge Mullins’ order.
On appeal, Millenium argued that it could not have safely followed the McCauley manual’s instructions with regard to installing counterweights on the propeller, because McCauley’s instructions were incorrect and resulted in an unsafe propeller. Millenium relied upon a “Letter of Correction” issued by McCauley that subsequently revised the installation instructions and expert testimony as proof that it was correctly installing the counterweights, despite the manual’s contrary instructions. Based upon this evidence, Millenium asked “the Board to make a policy decision regarding whether a repair shop’s completion of what the shop deems a “safe” repair may override a manual’s contrary instructions.”
The Board refused to make such a policy decision. Although it agreed with Judge Mullins that Millenium’s conduct was only a “technical” violation based on the mis-installation of the counterweights, it stated that “Respondent did not use the methods, techniques, and practices described in the current manufacturer’s maintenance manual or Instructions for Continued Airworthiness prepared by McCauley, or other methods, techniques, or practices that the Administrator had accepted.” As a result, the Board affirmed the finding of violation.
One of the issues appealed by the FAA was the sanction imposed by Judge Mullins: the FAA argued that six months was an inadequate sanction, given Millenium’s “apparent indifference toward FAA regulations regarding repairs and alterations of propellers.” The FAA took the position that Millenium’s certificate should be revoked because it lacked qualifications necessary for maintaining an air agency certificate, and that the Board was required to defer to this sanction policy of imposing revocation upon a certificate-holder in cases involving a lack of qualification. Fortunately for Millenium, the Board disagreed with the FAA’s arguments.
The Board noted that lack of qualification is a factual finding that does not command deference and went on to state that the FAA had presented no evidence upon which to reverse Judge Mullins’ finding that Millenium’s violations did not demonstrate a lack of qualification. It concluded that “[t]he Administrator’s argument that revocation is appropriate in light of the published sanction policy guidance, which mandates revocation when a respondent lacks qualifications, avoids the real issue of whether respondent’s violations in fact demonstrate a lack of qualification. In this regard, the Administrator has not cited any sanction policy guidance or case law that identifies revocation as the only appropriate sanction for the violations at issue here.”