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From The Logbook: The Annual Inspection . . . With Some Surprises Removed

' Jim Trusty 2005

A million questions about the annual inspection will NOT be answered in a thousand word article written by a Flight Instructor/Aircraft Owner, but a lot of information will be touched upon. How you use it will be your personal decision. If it makes you take the time to think, ask questions, do some work yourself, shop around, ask around, and watch the work as it is being performed, then my time writing this article was well spent.

A lot of reading will be required on your part, but the good thing is that even if you decide to let the mechanic do it all, you will have learned exactly what you didn't know about your very own airplane.

I have a good friend who always proofreads my articles. He hates them because to get anything out of them requires too much work. He really thinks that I should be able to cover the entire subject matter on two sheets of paper in about a thousand words. Not many subjects can be done that way and absolutely nothing involving aviation.

THE REQUIREMENTS: These are fully covered by FARs (and what isn't?). Read 91.403 for a start, 43.3(d) and (g), 43.9, and now that you have read your FAR book for the first time since getting your Private ticket, let's see what we have learned.

FIND THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS: Who can legally do the work? What work can you perform? What work are you qualified to do? When does it have to be completed? And that dreaded sign-off, how much weight does it carry?

What happens if we don't do it according to the regs? Who's to know if it isn't done properly or at all? What constitutes an annual inspection for my airplane? How do I get this thing back to my home base if I am out of annual? Is my insurance effective after my annual runs out? What specific items can I do with the hangar doors open? Should I do them? What should be the average cost for an annual for my type airplane? Who did the last one? When? Was it satisfactory?

What items must be recorded in the aircraft logbooks? Where can I get a copy of the required maintenance schedule needed to do an annual on my airplane? Who is required to do a 50-hour, 100-hour, 250-hour, or an annual inspection? Am I? Of the 328 items mentioned by Cessna for my 172, which are recommendations and which are mandatory?

Is it true that I can legally do only 32 of those items without being in violation? Where do I, as an owner, get parts? What do Red Tag and Yellow Tag parts mean? Where would I get the necessary tools? Am I smart enough to do this work? How much do I know about my aircraft? How much do I really want to know?

RESEARCH AND READING: A lot of reading will be required on your part, but the good thing is that even if you decide to let the mechanic do it all, you will have learned exactly what you didn't know about your very own airplane. When you total up your lack of knowledge, whatever you do, don't tell anyone about it. They will either refuse to fly with you or turn you in for being so far behind the knowledge curve.

Read anything you can find about working on your particular airplane. Search Trade-A-Plane for service manuals and bulletins. Get someone to run you a copy of the Advisory Directives from the FAA that have been issued over the years. Read your Aircraft Flight Manual, Pilot's Operating Handbook, and borrow, buy or copy your AP/AI copy of the service manual that applies to your airplane. Get a copy from your mechanic of a recent annual inspection sheet that he did on a similar airplane.

And now comes the one thing you really don't want to know, but it will be your first question: How much do you charge to do an annual?

COST: First, decide what work is going to be done by your mechanic. Parts? Labor? Flat fee? And what does this flat fee cover? If I am paying for parts and labor, why am I also paying a flat fee? Am I nuts? Can I get an estimate? How much time will my bird be on the ground? Has he annualed a similar aircraft lately? Can I see that paperwork?

MISTAKES NOT TO MAKE: 'It's time for my annual. Can you do it for me? I fly my family in this aircraft and I want it to be perfect. Cost means nothing to me! Whatever it is, FIX IT!' Not knowing in advance some of the costs and how the total job will be priced can lead to a surprise that will knock your socks off. I've seen $8,000 annuals done on an airplane that was flying great the day before it went in. And the time to do these inspections is just as important. An aircraft down for three weeks from a flying club, for example, can almost put you out of business.

THE BETTER WAY: Know all the costs that are possible to project in advance. Are parts easily accessible for my aircraft? Anything that comes up should be personally okayed by you. A list of things you personally want done should be gone over before the inspection begins. If costs are important to you, shop around. Be wary of too cheap a price, and be especially wary of one-price fits all! Be careful of the mechanic who can't or won't show you any paperwork from prior inspections. You may be his first victim. Know your mechanic. Know the FBO or shop that is directly responsible for the outcome of this work and the bill! Get it in writing. Get the name of some past clients and talk to them.

FINALLY: This is your airplane, your money, and, most assuredly, your responsibility, so do it your way. If the little bit of reading and chasing around is too much for your busy lifestyle, you deserve the results, and they can be scary.

An annual needs to be a learning experience. A little reading, a few questions, a little negotiating, some persistence, some demands, some commitments on both parts, and who knows but you might just make a new friend. Don't lose a friend just because you didn't do your part of the bargain.

There are certain and several things that are required on an annual basis, and you can put them off until finally it's time to pay the piper (or Cessna) since it has gone too far. Safety should always prevail in your final decision.

Good annuals DO NOT have to be all that expensive. During the year you should do a few things yourself, record what you did, find some necessary parts at a reduced price, get everything ready for the operation, all paperwork in order, price agreed upon, and time down settled. You are now ready to be inspected. 

I'll see you at the airport! Always remember, pilots who don't fly have no advantage over people who can't fly. What's your excuse?

Permission required to reprint this copyrighted article.

Jim Trusty, ATP/CFI, was named the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year for 1997, and the FAA Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year for 1995 & 2005. He still works full-time as a Corporate Pilot/ 'Gold Seal' Flight & Ground Instructor/ FAA Aviation Safety Counselor/ National Aviation Magazine Writer. You have been reading his work since 1973 in publications worldwide. He welcomes your comments and e-mail works best (Lrn2Fly@bellsouth.net).

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