Consumer Repair Restrictions Mirror Aviation Issues
On July 16, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted “Nixing the Fix: Workshop on Repair Restrictions” in Washington, D.C. Seeking new venues to shed light on the challenges faced by repair stations when trying to obtain maintenance manuals – and the FAA’s unwillingness to enforce the relevant regulations – ARSA coordinated industry attendance at the event.
The workshop’s purpose was to examine ways manufacturers seek to limit third-party repairs in various industries. The panels focused on how license agreements have eroded the consumer’s right of ownership and whether consumers have the right to repair their products outside of the manufacturer’s chain of control. The event demonstrated how other industries are facing parallel issues to aviation. While the workshop’s potential impact on the aviation industry’s cause is unclear, maintenance providers can reflect on these issues to examine their own challenges.
Panelist avidly debated apparent obstacles manufacturers engineer into their products. Through software, user agreements and/or hardware limitations, companies can construct barriers to third-party repair and limit consumer choice for who performs repair.
Arguments for and against third-party repair posed striking similarities to aviation maintenance issues. Panelists noted the impossibility of manufactures to meet repair demand for all technical devices in the market and addressed how third-party repair was essential to provide consumers a cost effective alternative.
The range of suggested solutions included requiring availability of OEM parts, technical data and software updates to the warranty protection when a non-manufacturer repair is used. Repair professionals argued that restricted access to product specifications and voided warranties creating monopolies on maintenance capabilities. Manufactures could then hold a consumer’s product “hostage” until they paid for the manufacture’s costly repair service or licensing fee for software updates or simply discarded the product and purchased a new one.
The aviation maintenance industry has already “solved” this issue by regulating manufactures to make maintenance manuals available, but consistent enforcement by the FAA is essential. Without it, the rule carries no weight. ARSA has used many avenues to urge the FAA to consistently enforce regulation and limit the burden imposed on repair stations.
The FTC’s inquiry into repair restrictions is another path the industry can take to push consistent enforcement.
You can view a recording of the workshop by clicking here.
The FTC will continue to accept comments on this matter until Sept. 16 through its comments page, click here to participate.
To review ARSA’s comments submitted to the FTC, click here.
ARSA's engagement with the FTC...
June 24, 2019
On July 16, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission will host a meeting in Washington, D.C. called “Nixing the Fix: A Workshop on Repair Restrictions.”
The purpose of the workshop, which is not aviation specific, is to examine ways manufacturers seek to limit third-party repairs in various industries. ARSA has been working with interested industry partners to utilize the event as yet another opportunity to shed light on the challenges repair stations face when trying to obtain maintenance manuals and the FAA’s unwillingness to enforce the relevant regulations.
The association encourages interested members to attend and participate. Event organizers have provided little information but ARSA’s team has worked to gather basic security and access guidance. If you are interested in attending, use the member inquiry system via the secure online portal to provide a list of attendees from your company (first and last name, title, company name, city and state are required for security.
Whether you can attend or not, take the follow steps to remain engaged with the effort:
(1) Review the meeting announcement for information about the event and what issues the FTC is exploring.
(2) Review ARSA’s submission to get a sense of how we’ve addressed the FTC’s question.
(3) Keep an eye out for other information about the event, which begins at 9:00 a.m. on July 16 and is open to the public. The event will be held at the Constitution Center, 400 7th St SW, Washington, D.C. 20024.
(4) Submit comments to the FTC. The deadline is Sept. 16, but submission in advance of the July 16 meeting is encouraged. Comments submitted to the SBA Ombudsman using ARSA’s toolkit can easily be repurposed.
(5) For more information, review the update below.
Note: Though ARSA is actively facilitating aviation industry participation in the event, the association is not directly involved in administering, sponsoring or supporting the event in any official capacity.
April 30, 2019
The FAA’s inconsistent enforcement of maintenance manual rules threatens competition in the aviation aftermarket, ARSA told the Federal Trade Commission in a letter submitted April 29.
ARSA’s submission was made in conjunction with the FTC’s Nixing the Fix initiative, the centerpiece of which is a July 16 meeting to examine ways in which manufacturers in various industries limit third-party repairs. Among other topics, the workshop will address issues that arise when a manufacturer restricts the ability of consumers or an independent repair shops to make product repairs.
ARSA told the FTC that the repair-restriction challenges faced by aviation repair stations are related to rules that require manufacturers to develop maintenance information and make it available. Specifically, the FAA fails to enforce the regulation requiring Design Approval Holders (DAHs) to develop basic maintenance information and thereafter make it available to maintenance providers (14 CFR § 21.50(b)), while aggressively enforcing the rule requiring repair stations to possess that same maintenance data (14 CFR § 145.109(d)).
ARSA’s comments were submitted in response to a call for empirical research and data about repair restrictions in advance of the July 16 meeting. ARSA’s letter provides an overview the maintenance manual regulatory framework, describes the challenges repair stations encounter when seeking maintenance data and cites various examples provided by ARSA members (redacted to remove any identifying information) in response to association surveys and to the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Ombudsman.
Although the deadline to submit pre-meeting data to the FTC has passed, the deadline for submitting comments on manufacturer aftermarket restrictions isn’t until Sept. 16. ARSA members concerned about the availability of maintenance data are encouraged to both submit comments and participate in the July 16 meeting to help shed light on DAH practices and encourage the FTC to address the issue. If you intend to do both or either, please let ARSA Executive Vice President Christian Klein know so the association can keep you informed of relevant developments.
In addition to supporting the FTC’s Nixing the Fix initiative, association and industry members should take action on other fronts:
(1) Follow ARSA’s lead and file a comment with the SBA Ombudsman. For information on the effort and access to an association-produced industry toolkit, visit: arsa.org/sbaicacomment.
(2) Utilize ARSA’s toolkit for requesting exemption from the “current” maintenance data requirement of § 145.109(d). For more information, visit: arsa.org/145-109.
To see ARSA’s letter in support of the “Nixing the Fix” initiative, click here.