All certificated AMTs know that maintenance activities performed on aircraft having U.S. airworthiness certificates must be appropriately recorded in the associated maintenance record. The “logging” requirement also applies to the performance of inspections requiring approval or disapproval of aircraft for return to service. The content, form and disposition of maintenance record entries is set out in FAR parts 43.9 and 43.11, and additional advisory information is contained in AC 43-9C. These resources relate the minimum information needed for compliance. It’s fairly straightforward, right?
Well, at least one mechanic got in big trouble for what he recorded and, notably, what he failed to perform. It’s not that the mechanic was deficient in describing the work, but rather, he failed to do the work he described—he made the entry before the work was completed. The FAA alleged the mechanic made an intentionally false statement and, additionally, alleged that he performed other maintenance not in accordance with the methods, techniques, or practices acceptable to the Administrator, violations of 43.12(a)(1) and 43.13(a), respectively. The FAA sought revocation of his mechanic’s certificate on an emergency basis.
The case was first heard by an NTSB administrative law judge (ALJ) in 2017. The ALJ affirmed the FAA’s revocation order and the respondent-mechanic appealed the decision to the NTSB’s full board, which ruled on the matter in 2019. I have pared down much of the detail of the case in the interest of brevity and to focus on the titled theme of this article.
The respondent-mechanic in this case was tasked with repairing an Evektor SportStar Plus, a Czech built LSA, that had been damaged in an accident. Unrelated to the damage, the respondent-mechanic also undertook to perform a brake upgrade and an increase to the aircraft’s maximum takeoff weight. The latter was to be done in accordance with a factory bulletin which called for the installation of vortex generators, an airspeed indicator marking change, a bigger nose tire, replacement of various placards, replacement pages in the aircraft operating instructions and maintenance and inspection procedures and recordation of the performed bulletin in the aircraft log book.
Fast forward past numerous delays over numerous months. The respondent-mechanic returned the aircraft to the owner and the associated log book entry stated “Performed Evektor Service Bulletin SportStar 011 b, MTOW increase to 1320 pounds”. We assume there were additional log entries related to other work performed, including the brakes, but no other entries are quoted in the case record. Subsequent to the hand-over, the aircraft owner and his consulting-mechanic expressed concerns to the FAA about the maintenance work performed by the respondent-mechanic. This led to an FAA inspection that revealed the rudder cables were not properly attached to the rudder pedals (loose castle nuts and no cotter pins) and that the MTOW bulletin was not fully complied with (no modification to the airspeed indicator, no modified placards, no revision of the pilot operating handbook and maintenance manual).
At the initial NTSB hearing, the respondent-mechanic testified that the logbook entry was made “to document what I did to the airplane before returning it to be repaired.” He further alleged that the entry indicated that he completed the “mechanical work” and did not intend to convey that he performed the entire service bulletin. He also indicated that he gave the owner’s consulting-mechanic an envelope with maintenance items to be completed. The owner’s consulting-mechanic also testified at the hearing and confirmed that he received an envelope containing maintenance records, but that the respondent did not say anything to him about the condition of the aircraft or outstanding maintenance items. The respondent-mechanic ultimately conceded that anyone reading the entry would be led to believe the MTOW bulletin had been fully completed. The ALJ ruled that the respondent-mechanic’s log entry was a false representation of a material fact that he made with knowledge of its falsity and thus found him guilty of intentional falsification. The respondent-mechanic appealed the ALJ’s ruling.
On appeal, the respondent-mechanic argued, among other things, that the ALJ gave improper deference to the FAA on the choice of revocation as the sanction and failed to consider mitigating factors. The respondent-mechanic’s not-so-novel argument that the ALJ failed to consider his lack of aviation accidents, incidents or prior enforcement actions and his cooperation as mitigating factors, produced a commonly repeated response from the NTSB: “We view a violation-and incident-free history as status quo, rather than a mitigating circumstance.” The respondent-mechanic’s appeal was denied and the emergency revocation of his mechanic certificate was affirmed.
In our experience, the FAA and the NTSB are resistant to favorable consideration of a mechanic’s after-the-fact explanation of an entry, especially one that seems clear in its language. The FAA relies heavily on the accuracy and integrity of records, mainly because the FAA is not able to oversee all records as they are made, therefore the FAA has to trust those of us in the system to make accurate, understandable entries. When FAA discovers an inaccurate entry that is part of a record meant to endure for years or decades, as done here, they tend to treat the author severely. The clear lesson: AMTs with log recording responsibilities should take great care to make compliant and accurate entries upon completion of their work.
Kathy Yodice is the Managing Partner of Yodice Associates, a private practice law firm with a special emphasis on aviation law. She has more than 30 years experience representing airman in FAA enforcement actions, regulatory compliance matters, accident investigations, and aviation-related business issues.
Legal services are provided by Yodice Associates to qualified aviation maintenance professionals. PAMA members receive discounted rates. Learn more at MX PRO.