Buried in the 5,600-page coronavirus relief and multi-agency funding bill that Congress pushed through in late December is a provision that requires the FAA to issue new training standards for aviation technical schools.
The long-awaited change would update educational requirements contained in Part 147, which dictates the basic curriculum for certified technician training programs. A broad industry coalition has been working with the FAA for years to get the standards—which have changed little since their introduction in 1970—into place via a revamped rule. The congressional mandate, included in a broader set of reforms that target FAA certification, calls for “interim final regulations to establish requirements for issuing aviation maintenance technician school certificates and associated ratings and the general operating rules for the holders of those certificates and ratings” within 90 days. The bill was signed into law on Dec. 27, giving the FAA until the end of March to act.
“This was a monumental win for the aviation industry and will forever change the landscape of aviation technical education,” says Jared Britt, Southern Utah University director of global aviation maintenance training and Aviation Technician Education Council legislative committee chair.
The language Congress adopted is based on a bipartisan bill introduced in late 2018. The Senate Commerce Committee included it in its proposed draft of FAA certification reform, which was rolled into the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.
Advocates are hopeful new standards will help speed the maintenance industry’s recovery following the pandemic by enabling schools to produce better-qualified technicians.
“Leading up to the pandemic, Part 147 programs were not able to meet industry’s workforce demand; outdated and burdensome regulatory requirements exacerbated an already short supply of aviation technicians,” a coalition of the bill’s supporters told members of Congress in an early December letter calling for action. “Given the exodus of qualified personnel due to COVID-19, industry’s post-pandemic recovery is greatly dependent on its ability to efficiently and effectively replace the devastating loss of technical experience. Reform of Part 147 is now more important than ever.”
The Part 147 revamp’s most recent milestone was an April 2019 supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking, which addressed several industry concerns with a November 2015 draft rule. Among them was expanding competency-based training standards to incorporate deviations from a fixed set of hours to teach skills. Whether the congressional mandate will be met with a final rule or yet another draft is unclear. The FAA last year said it was working on a final version of its rule and at one point targeted late 2020 for its release.