The famous General Douglas MacArthur is quoted as saying “Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind”. At first I was surprised that this quote was attributed to a ranking member of the military known for strict adherence to rules and regulations, but on closer examination he was referring to the prosecution of battle plans, and I doubt he would tolerate the wear of an unkempt uniform out of regulations. In aviation we generally observe that the rules and regulations are black and white and to be followed, but from your particular vantage point a certain rule or regulation may seem like a square peg in a round hole. General MacArthur, when questioned about the apparent withdrawal of his troops, famously replied regarding his vantage: “We are not retreating. We are advancing in another direction”. And so it is with an exemption; it is not a retreat, but an advance in another direction.
To illustrate the exemption process lets use an example. Suppose you are a repair station with an airframe rating and your primary business is installing and maintaining In-Flight Entertainment systems, IFE. FAR 145.103 (b) says that “A certificated repair station with an airframe rating must provide suitable permanent housing to enclose the largest type and model of aircraft listed on its operations specifications.” Typically this means having a hangar. A customer requires that you perform a modification which is a maintenance action. The mod is pretty minor in terms of complexity, can be performed overnight, inside the aircraft, and at the customer’s line station gate as they have requested. Do you still need that hangar?
Looking at the work, the answer is no; looking at the FAR the answer is yes. A possible remedy would be to explore a request for an exemption. You will have to petition the FAA. According to FAR 11.17, “A petition for exemption is a request to FAA by an individual or entity asking for relief from the requirements of a current regulation.”
Critical to your petition would be your ability to demonstrate “The reasons why granting the exemption would not adversely affect safety, or how the exemption would provide a level of safety at least equal to that provided by the rule from which you seek exemption”. To familiarize yourself with the process, first read the applicable portions of FAR 11; it will be a quick read. Second, go to this FAA web site for the step by step procedure:
Also be aware that if granting your petition would set a precedent, the FAA will most likely publish it for public comment in the Federal Register.
There are some circumstances where the situation for which you seek relief does not fit the intention of the exemption process. It may be that a possible remedy can be found in a waiver, deviation, or authorization. An example is an aircraft grounded for a maintenance issue at a location where there are no suitable maintenance resources. Petitioning for an exemption to the FAR’s regarding airworthiness in order to be able to ferry the aircraft to a maintenance base would not fit the intention of the exemption process. If it is found that the aircraft was nonetheless capable of safe flight, in this case requesting a Special Flight Permit would be the appropriate remedy. This is an example of an authorization issued for this one-time.
In my research I discovered that the FAA has at this date 15,210 records in its exemptions database, so there is considerable activity. Note that in this same database there are 3,624 records of petitions whose disposition is listed as “Denied”. There are many good reasons for denials beyond the brevity of this blog, but the conclusion is that in order to seek relief from the rules or regulations, you will have to follow the rules and regulations for such relief.
My humble counsel is to exhaust all reasonable means to meet a rule or regulation. If that will not work, consider the aforementioned. Fortunately, our industry is comprised of regulators and operators with sound procedures and a passion for safety, unlike sports according to George Orwell:
“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.”
Be safe, play by the rules, will ya?