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New Parts Program Big Win for Vintage Fleet

Thanks to years of EAA’s advocacy efforts, the FAA has unveiled a new program for the use of off-the-shelf parts in type-certificated aircraft. This is the first approval granted under the new Vintage Aircraft Replacement and Modification Article (VARMA) program, the next big step in keeping vintage aircraft flying.

Anyone who owns and operates vintage aircraft knows that finding parts can be a major challenge. This situation is especially frustrating when perfectly safe and functional alternatives are readily available, but can’t be used because there’s been no legal way to install them in a type-certificated aircraft. With VARMA in place, some aspects of vintage aircraft ownership and operation are about to get a lot simpler.

Notably, VARMA uses several existing FAA policies to create a program that requires no new regulations, orders, or advisory circulars. It 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 aircraft, without the need for extensive engineering analysis or complex and time-consuming design and production approvals from the FAA.

"This is great news for those of us who own and fly vintage aircraft,” said Jack Pelton, EAA’s CEO and chairman of the board. “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 program applies to parts whose failure would not “prevent continued safe flight and landing.” While this means that safety-critical components are not subject to this program, there are plenty of hard-to-find parts that meet VARMA’s criteria.

For the trial, EAA chose to apply for an off-the-shelf starter solenoid used as a substitute part in a Cessna 150, as the failure of the starter system is generally irrelevant to flight safety. The FAA granted the first Form 337 approval under the program several weeks later. Since that time, we’ve also been granted approval for alternators and voltage regulators in VFR aircraft.

EAA Cessna 150

The Cessna 150 we used for the first approvals under VARMA is the same airplane that served as the testbed for our autofuel STC.

There are many more parts that are eligible under VARMA. For the time being, the FAA will be primarily managing the program through its Chicago Aircraft Certification Office, which can be reached at 847-294-7357, but VARMA is supported all the way to the highest levels of the agency. At this time approvals will be considered on an individual basis, although type clubs and ownership groups are encouraged to keep track of substitute parts that have gained approval.

“EAA has had a longstanding commitment to maintainability and modernization in the legacy aircraft community,” said Tom Charpentier, EAA’s government relations director. “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.”

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