Comibined Airworthiness Organisation (CAO) is a term originating in Europe, but today is used across continents. So what is it, and what could it mean to an aircraft operator?

Essentially CAO is an approval given by a National Aviation Authority (NAA) to a maintenance company within its region that demonstrates the firm meets certain criteria. The CAO designation, previously referred to as Part-M, was introduced in 2003 and slowly it became mandatory for all EU-registered aircraft to be supported by a CAMO-approved company.

The role of a Combined Airworthiness Organization ultimately requires handling liaisons with authorities on behalf of an aircraft owner; finding solutions to maintenance problems with OEMs; delving into the aircraft manuals; assessing Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins; tendering management for maintenance input; and performing on-site aircraft surveys as well as record audits.

In certain scenarios the CAO may be on-site during heavy maintenance as the aircraft representative overseeing the technical aspects. It’s common for aircraft owners to refer to a technical representative – the back office engineering department handling all of the planning and paperwork for engineering – as CAO.

Only a decade ago, any semi-retired aircraft engineer could take on the engineering planning and maintenance management for a client with a private aircraft in Europe. The introduction of Part CAO has helped to regulate this niche, and today in order for an engineer to offer such services for an EASA-registered, mid-weight turbine aircraft, they must gain CAO approval.

To obtain that CAO approval an organization must establish that it has the required NAA-approved caliber of employees with the relevant level of training and experience; plan a training program for the staff; have adequate office facilities; and have a secure IT infrastructure with all necessary protocols in place – all of which may mean the semiretired engineer may want to reconsider how and when they retire!