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FAA VARMA Initiative a Boon to Vintage GA Fleet

New Program Allows Broadened Parts Options

Thanks in part to persistent and persuasive efforts put forth by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the FAA has unveiled a new program for the use of off-the-shelf parts in type-certificated aircraft. The approval is the first granted under the new Vintage Aircraft Replacement and Modification Article (VARMA) program—a decisive and important victory in the ongoing battle to keep vintage aircraft airworthy.

Owners and operators of vintage aircraft are unwantedly and overly familiar with the challenges inherent locating and securing FAA-authorized parts for their machines. Infuriating conundrums arise when perfectly functional and safe alternative (non OEM) parts are readily available but cannot be legally utilized per the restrictions of FAA aircraft type certificates.

The new VARMA initiative draws from extant FAA policies to create a program requiring no new regulations, orders, or Advisory Circulars (AC). VARMA applies to small (less than 12,500 pounds) type-certificated aircraft built before 1980. The program allows ordinary maintenance personnel to validate that certain low-risk replacement parts are suitable for installation on eligible aircraft in the absence of complex and costly engineering analysis or time-consuming FAA design and production approvals.

EAA chairman and CEO Jack Pelton stated: "This is great news for those of us who own and fly vintage aircraft. There could easily come a time when a classic airplane that would otherwise be grounded for want of a part that’s no longer available will fly again thanks to the parts substitution enabled by VARMA.”

The VARMA program applies to non-critical parts, the failures of which do not “prevent continued safe flight and landing.” Though VARMA does not pertain to safety-critical components, the program nevertheless renders many clone and aftermarket aircraft parts immediately and legally available and installable, thereby alleviating the burden currently borne by vintage aircraft owners desiring to keep their aircraft flying within the constraints of FAA regulation.

For trial purposes, the EAA applied for an off-the-shelf starter solenoid—a component irrelevant to safety of flight—for use in a Cessna 150. Several weeks later, the FAA granted the first Form 337 approval under the VARMA program.

The EAA has since been granted approval for alternators and voltage regulators in aircraft limited to VFR operations.

Many additional parts are eligible under VARMA. For the time being, the FAA will manage the VARMA program primarily through its Chicago Aircraft Certification Office, which can be reached at 847-294-7357. VARMA, however, is supported at all levels of the FAA, from the lowliest field inspector to the agency’s acting (hopefully permanent) Administrator. At present the FAA will consider VARMA applications on an individual basis. Type clubs and ownership groups are encouraged to keep track of FAA approvals of substitute parts.

EAA government relations director Tom Charpentier set forth: “EAA has had a longstanding commitment to maintainability and modernization in the legacy aircraft community. Our EFIS and autopilot STCs broke new ground in affordable avionics, and it is our hope that VARMA opens many new doors for easily found replacement parts. As with the STC programs, we blazed the trail with the first application. Now we’re excited to see the program grow in the GA community.”

FMI: www.eaa.org


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