District Court Settles Fairchild 45 Plans Request
Could lead to easier access to antique aircraft plans
January 27, 2011 — A favorable ruling on a nine-year-old Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case appears to clear the way for the restorers of a Fairchild 45, the last of which was built in 1937, to obtain original engineering data for the aircraft. By unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court handed the case back to U.S. District Court for a ruling after finding the main argument against release – trade secrets – was not valid. Washington, D.C. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled in AAA Executive Director Brent Taylor's favor on January 19..
Attorneys from the EAA Legal Advisory Council argued nearly three years ago on behalf of Taylor, EAA 576868, who filed the FOIA request in 2002 seeking access to the original data for a Fairchild 45. The FAA denied the request, saying he had to obtain permission to copy the plans from the owner of the original Type Certificate (TC).
However, the original (now defunct) company, the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation, released the Fairchild 45 data to the public in 1955. The Fairchild Corporation, formed in 1990, claims that it withdrew that disclosure and is the legitimate owner of the type certificate, although its name does not appear in any of the FAA records.
The U.S. District Court held that:
- A written letter authorizing the release of type certificate data was in fact valid authorization for the release of type certificate data.
- The Fairchild Corporation claiming to be the predecessor of the first could not, in any event, restore the materials to trade secret status.
- “Consequently, the court concludes that the F-45 type certification materials are not commercially valuable, and thus do not constitute trade secrets under Exemption 4.” (Italics ours.)
To see the complete judgment, click here.
Greg Herrick, who made an initial, unsuccessful FOIA request for F45 DATA prior to Taylor’s, commented on his blog: “For all of us, the Court’s third finding was the most critical and far reaching as it appears to have completely eradicated the FAA’s linchpin reason for not releasing vintage type certificate data: FOIA Exemption 4 – Trade Secrets.” Read more reaction on his blog.
To read EAA Legal Advisory Council attorney Michael Pangia’s blog post about the case, click here.