Aircraft Manufacturer’s Service Bulletins and the Owner/Operator’s Responsibility Regarding Their Compliance


I was working on a civil case for the defendant in which the plaintiff had stipulated in their complaint that the defendant had sold with full knowledge and intent to the plaintiff an aircraft that was not in an airworthy condition at the time of the sale. One of the claims was that the defendant had not complied with the aircraft manufacturer’s Mandatory Service Bulletin (MSB) which addressed installing inspection panels in the engine cowlings. These panels would have allowed for easier access to an area that was normally difficult to inspect. This was indeed a good idea. The real question here is: was the defendant, as an aircraft owner, required by current Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) to comply with the MSB?

aeroplane parked

In the United States there is only one entity that has jurisdiction over aviation matters, and that is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

In the United States there is only one entity that has jurisdiction over aviation matters, and that is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Only the FAA can mandate and enforce policy regarding all legalities within the aviation sector. These policies are contained within Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations parts 1 through 183 which make up the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). With that said, it is clear that the owner/operator’s responsibility concerning their aircraft is contained in the FARs and is not put forth by the manufacturer. The manufacturer may place titles on their Service Bulletins like: Mandatory or Emergency. Then highlight them with big red stripes to make them look official, but the question is: do they have the right to force these into action?
The FAA has made it very clear that only the FAA may mandate rules that are binding on an operator. If the FAA determined that a manufacturer’s SB was indeed required in order to correct an unairworthy issue, then such a mandate would be adopted in the form of either an Airworthiness Directive (AD) or an amendment to the operating rules.
Anyone operating under Part 91 of the FARs, shall maintain their aircraft in accordance with that Part. This includes having the aircraft inspected annually (Annual Inspection), and complying with all applicable Airworthiness Directives (AD). SB compliance is not required by the FARs.
When operating under another Part, such as Part 135 Commuter Air Carrier and On-demand (commercial operator), the situation is more complex. In addition to Part 91, the operator will also need to comply with everything under that Part (135). In this situation, the operator is required to have approved Operation Specifications (Op Specs) which will usually contain additional maintenance requirements. These Op Specs are then considered to be an extension of the FARs and are as legally binding. If the Op Specs state that the operator shall  follow the manufacturer’s maintenance procedures, and if those procedures mandate the compliance of SBs, those SBs become mandatory.
Generally speaking, a private operator is not required to comply with SBs whereas a commercial operator may be required depending on their Op Specs.
Regarding the case I was working on, I was able to show to the plaintiff that the defendant had complied with all the legally binding requirements as set forth by the FAA and that the aircraft was in an airworthy condition at the time of the sale.
Expert Witness No. 2655 has over 30 years experience working in the commercial aviation field including flight operations, maintenance, manufacturing and management. His extensive hands-on experience as a professional ATP pilot, Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic, Inspection Authorization certificate holder, Chief Inspector and Engineering Manager under a Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA), along with a diversified managerial background forms the foundation of his expertise in all matters of the aviation industry.

Written by Aviation Litigation Expert Witness

Expert Witness No. 2655
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