A US court ruling has determined FAA is not obligated to force an aerospace manufacturer to supply maintenance instructions to a repair station, potentially kicking off a new round of debates between manufacturers and repair stations over so-called instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA).

The issue pits Piedmont Propulsion Systems against UTC Aerospace Systems (UTAS). North Carolina-based Piedmont repairs Hamilton Sundstrand 568F propellers found on several regional aircraft models. Piedmont has long sought ICA, or maintenance manuals, for a specific 568F procedure, court filings show. In 2014, after "several years" of trying, Piedmont went to FAA.

In November 2016, FAA determined that Piedmont was entitled to the ICA—covering compression-wrap removal and replacement—and the agency said it would "pursue distribution" of the manuals with UTAS. Hamilton Sundstrand is now part of UTAS.

Over the following year, Piedmont appealed to both UTAS and FAA to get the manuals. It wrote several letters to FAA and met with UTAS representatives, but made no progress, it wrote in a court filing. In late 2017, it turned to the courts, seeking to force FAA's hand.

"Over one year after the FAA issued its final order, Piedmont still has not received the instructions for continued airworthiness at issue," Piedmont's filing said, "and there is no indication from the FAA or UTAS that it will ever receive the materials."

Piedmont's latest appeal was denied by a Washington DC Court of Appeals, which cited case law saying a federal agency can decide when and how to enforce its own regulations.

While OEMs have long sought to fix their own products, increasing OEM interest in capturing more of its aftermarket means the ICA debate could once again intensify. If it does, the Piedmont case could serve as a reality check for independent shops looking for help from FAA on clear-cut ICA violations.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@informa.com