A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit brought by Friends of the Earth seeking to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to determine that lead emissions from aircraft using 100LL fuel pose a danger to public health as defined by the Clean Air Act of 1970. The lawsuit effectively halted the development and testing of 100LL alternatives, which is a priority for the general aviation industry. The court dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds, finding that the EPA’s denial of a citizen’s petition for rulemaking is properly reviewed by the Court of Appeals. Although groups such as EAA and AOPA have long advocated for the development of alternative lead-free fuels for general aviation aircraft without EPA rulemaking or litigation, no lead-free alternative has been certificated for use in general aviation aircraft to date. Accordingly, the Friends of the Earth case might not be the final lawsuit filed on this issue.
California-based Weco Aeropace Systems Inc. has been charged with using unapproved parts, including paper clips, to repair aircraft. On September 29, 2012, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of California indicted former executives of Weco on a wide range of fraud counts. The indictment alleges that the defendants allowed technicians to use unapproved parts in repairs, and that Weco Aerospace lacked the requisite equipment to properly install and test major aircraft components, including converters and generators.
Specific allegations include the fabrication of end bell locator pins from a drill bit and a paper clip, and the installation of those fabricated pins into motors which were then installed on aircraft in violation of FAR Part 43. The defendants are also charged with falsifying aircraft records by certifying airworthiness approval tags (FAA Form 8130-3) for components which were not overhauled properly.
This case highlights the importance of ensuring that aircraft repairs and system overhauls are performed by qualified shops using authorized parts. While no aircraft owners were implicated in the indictment, aircraft owners and pilots conducting preventative maintenance pursuant to FAR 43.3(g) (as specified in Part 43, Appendix A) should ensure that they are using only approved parts and procedures. As this case points out, overlooking any required testing procedure is also illegal and problematic. For this reason, those performing preventative maintenance should have their work checked and tested by qualified individuals. Navigating the complex regulations governing aircraft repair and maintenance is fraught with legal pitfalls. Any questions regarding the legality of maintenance, repairs, or airworthiness checks should be referred to an experienced aviation attorney.