United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
Airmotive Engineering Corporation and Engine Components International, Inc., Petitioners
Federal Aviation Administration, Respondent
December 4, 2017
Petition for Review of an Order of the Federal Aviation
G. Ferguson argued the cause for petitioners. With her on the
brief was Andrew D. Herman.
Myron, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause
for respondent. With her on the brief were Charles W.
Scarborough, Attorney, and Paul M. Geier, Assistant General
Counsel for Litigation, U.S. Department of Transportation.
Before: Henderson and Rogers, Circuit Judges, and Sentelle,
Senior Circuit Judge.
ROGERS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
manufacturer of replacement aircraft parts petitions for
review of an "airworthiness directive" issued by
the Federal Aviation Administration that mandates removal of
some of its engine cylinder assemblies. The manufacturer
challenges the application of a risk management methodology
and whether there was substantial evidence in the record to
support the conclusion that the cylinders presented an
"unsafe condition" under agency regulations. It
also contends that a failure to analyze the risks associated
with replacement itself undermined reasoned decisionmaking.
It seeks a remand for a new risk assessment of the cylinder
assemblies. For the following reasons, we deny the petition
support of the mandate to "promote safe flight of civil
aircraft, " the Federal Aviation Administration
("FAA") promulgates safety standards for aircraft
and component parts. 49 U.S.C. § 44701 et seq.
To produce replacement parts for aircraft engines, a
manufacturer is required to obtain a "parts manufacturer
approval" ("PMA"), 14 C.F.R. §
21.301-.320, that the part "conforms to its approved
design and is in a condition for safe operation, "
id. § 21.1(b)(1). Once a replacement part is in
production, the FAA, upon determining that the part has an
"unsafe condition" that "is likely to exist or
develop in other products of the same type design, " may
issue an "airworthiness directive." Id.
§ 39.5. The FAA treats airworthiness directives, which
are published in the Federal Register, id. §
39.13, as "legally enforceable rules, "
id. § 39.3, that can require inspections,
impose conditions and limitations, and require actions to
resolve an unsafe condition, id. § 39.11. The
term "unsafe condition" is not defined by statute
or FAA regulation.
Engineering Corporation and Engine Components International,
Inc. (collectively, "Airmotive") manufacture and
market PMA-certified replacement "cylinder
assemblies" used in piston engines installed in small
single- or twin-engine aircraft. The head of a cylinder
assembly is joined to the barrel by heating the head and
screwing it onto the threaded barrel to create an
"interference fit." National Transportation Safety
Board ("NTSB"), Safety Rec. to Act. FAA Adm'r,
at 1 (Feb. 24, 2012).
August 2013, the FAA published a notice of proposed
rulemaking for an airworthiness directive regarding the
"unsafe condition" created by Airmotive cylinder
assemblies with part number AEC631397 and serial numbers 1 to
61, 176 (hereinafter "AEC63"). Continental
Motors, Inc. Reciprocating Engines
("CMRE"), 78 Fed. Reg. 48, 828, 48, 830
(Aug. 12, 2013) ("NPRM"). This followed the
FAA's receipt of failure reports of multiple cylinder
head-to-barrel separations and cracked and leaking aluminum
cylinder heads, and recommendations from the NTSB and FAA
maintenance inspectors. The proposed directive would require
initial and repetitive inspections, replacement of cracked
cylinders, and replacement after reduced times-in-service. It
would prohibit future installation of AEC63 cylinder
assemblies. Id. Public comments were mostly
negative. The FAA proceeded to add certain technical
documents to the rulemaking record, extend the public comment
period, and appoint an "independent, multidisciplinary
team" of agency experts. The team concluded an
"unsafe condition" existed and an airworthiness
directive was required, but recommended making compliance
less aggressive and less costly with revised compliance and
removal schedules. In January 2015, the FAA published a
revised proposal adopting the recommendations and reopened
the comment period. See CMRE, 80 Fed. Reg. 1008
(Jan. 8, 2015) ("Supp. NPRM"). After the FAA placed
additional technical documents in the record and provided
responses to public comments, it again reopened the comment
period. See CMRE, 80 Fed. Reg. 52, 212 (Aug. 28,
2015) ("Second Supp. NPRM").
promulgated the airworthiness directive a year later. See
CMRE, 81 Fed. Reg. 52, 975 (Aug. 11, 2016) ("Final
Rule"). In further response to public comments, the FAA
explained the basis for its conclusion that AEC63 cylinder
assemblies presented an "unsafe condition." In the
FAA's judgment, "[t]he impact of a cylinder failure
separation in flight is an unacceptable compromise to
safety." Id. at 52, 980. Record evidence
indicated that AEC63 cylinder assemblies fail at a rate
"at least 32 times greater" than those of the
original manufacturer. Id. at 52, 979. The FAA
attributed the "root cause" of this high failure
rate "to two inherent design deficiencies":
"Insufficient dome transition radius and insufficient
head-to-barrel interference fit." Id. at 52,
980. Record evidence further indicated that "in-flight
cylinder head separation is an unsafe condition that presents
multiple secondary effects, " including in-flight fire
and loss of aircraft control. Id. at 52, 979.
Accident data confirmed that separated cylinders have also
been a precipitating event in fatal accidents. Id.
The directive required phased removal of AEC63 assemblies and
prohibited their future installation. Id. at 52,
991. Airmotive petitions for review of the Final Rule,
see 49 U.S.C. § 46110(a), seeking a remand for
a new risk assessment of the cylinder assemblies.
the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), the court
must uphold agency action unless it is "arbitrary,
capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in
accordance with the law." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A).
"The scope of review . . . is narrow and a court is not
to substitute its judgment for that of the agency, "
provided the agency has "examine[d] the relevant data
and articulate[d] a satisfactory explanation for its action
including a rational connection between the facts found and
the choice made." Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n v.
State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see
Clark Cty., Nev. v. FAA, 522 F.3d 437, 441 (D.C. Cir.
2008). The FAA's findings of fact "are
conclusive" when "supported by substantial
evidence, " 49 U.S.C. § 46110(c), namely,
"evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate
to support a conclusion, " Schoenbohm v. FCC,
204 F.3d 243, 246 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). When