Aviation Safety Letter 2/2004

Spring Inspection of Your Aircraft - A Must

When you fly an ultralight, amateur-built or normal category aircraft that you have registered with owner-maintenance classification, you are faced with the responsibility of carrying out the maintenance of your aircraft at least once a year. This is a considerable task, as you first have to create a process that will ensure that your aircraft will remain airworthy during the period that you've determined to be the minimum interval between inspections. It is a major responsibility, as you must guard against any civil lawsuits that may be brought against you or your heirs following a crash or mishap.

When you carry out your own maintenance, you become the authority that attests to the airworthiness of the aircraft and therefore you are solely responsible for any outcome that may question your ability to perform such maintenance work. It is a considerable task because, unlike full-time aircraft maintenance engineers (AME) who stay current by performing daily inspections and repairs, you do it only sporadically. It is crucial that you have a plan of action. Like full-time AMEs, you must use checklists to ensure that your inspection covers the whole aircraft including the engine, propeller and flight controls. Even if it is a simple aircraft, a checklist will assist in ensuring that all is covered. It may be used as evidence that you have carried out the work in case of litigation. You must also create an additional checklist consisting of items that have been known to fail or weaken over time and that the manufacturer or type club have found important to add to a maintenance checklist. The checklist can also be used to compare notes with others who operate the same type of aircraft and ensure that nothing is forgotten or left to chance.

Do you have the aircraft and engine manufacturer's inspection checklist? If not, look up your aircraft type club or the aircraft, engine and propeller manufacturers on the Internet. You can also find assistance through discussion groups on similar Web sites - they can be a Godsend.

Each year, usually in the spring or early summer, pilots of ultralight and general aviation aircraft experience various engine failures, flight control failures and sometimes even structural failures that lead to injuries and death. Most of the time the mishaps can be traced back to poor maintenance practices. Aircraft and engine components are subject to fatigue, wear and tear. That is the reason for inspections. Aircraft have to be maintained diligently in a manner that will prevent any major problems from occurring. Aircraft and engine manufacturers' recommendations are the minimum amount of maintenance required to ensure your safety; however, the more you do to ensure that your aircraft is airworthy, the better. Your first order of the day is to get out all of the maintenance manuals, checklists, and proper tools, as well as spare parts that will serve as replacements. Second, is to review inspection procedures for structural, engine and propeller components. What will you be looking for? How will you be able to assess wear and tear, and repair accordingly? Who can assist you if you are unsure of being able to do the work correctly? Lives will depend on your assessment of the airworthiness of the various aircraft parts. Can you do it? Do not hesitate to ask a professional for help.

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