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The Dreaded Annual Inspection

by Jim McElvain, FAA Regional Safety Program Manager
Article Reprinted With Permission of FAA Aviation News

It�s over. The dreaded annual inspection that seems to come around about every other week! But, it wasn�t so bad after all! Each year my son and I have assisted with the inspection, while the IA says things like: �Who in the heck taught you to safety wire?� and �Ya�ll look like a couple a monkeys wraslin� a football!.� The IA�s I have worked with are �colorful� to say the least, but I will give them credit where credit is due. Both of the men doing inspection duties on my aircraft over the last ten years are honest, helpful, and each displays tremendous integrity. When the last inspection plates have been replaced, the tools put away, and the documentation completed, my airplane is right!

What are the benefits of an aircraft that is legal and in proper working order? First, the peace of mind that comes with a safe aircraft. Can it quit right after a thorough annual? Sure, but the odds are definitely more in your favor if it has been carefully scrutinized! And, whether you own or rent, think of the consequences that can occur if you have to make an off airport landing or have a flight control failure. At the very least, you are going to have to find a new way home and be out the expense of recovering the aircraft. I know of more than one flight school that has gone out of business by trying to cut corners on aircraft maintenance. Recovering aircraft, accidents, and increased insurance premiums more than offset any possible gains due to �thrifty� maintenance techniques. On the other end of the scale, think of the horror that you would have to live with if you knowingly allowed �shoddy� maintenance to take the life of one of your family members or other passengers.

A thorough annual inspection is never going to be as cheap as your car�s tune up at the local �Quick Tune and Pizzaria.� But, a good annual and economics can peacefully co-exist. The most important first step is to find a good �mechanic.� I say mechanic instead of technician, just to draw a little attention. There are parts changers, and there are well-trained, knowledgeable craftsmen who know their trade. These people know when a part is still serviceable and when it must be changed. They know what is safe and what has effectively reached the end of its service life. New tolerance and within tolerance are two vastly different terms that come with vastly different price tags. Good mechanics/technicians can keep your aircraft safe and legal at a reduced rate. By knowing their trade they catch problems early and avoid the high cost of major failures. Replacing bearings beats the heck out of replacing a unit in which the bearings have been allowed to fail.

If you have any mechanical abilities, I urge you to participate in the upkeep of your aircraft for several reasons. One is that you will take more time in a task than a mechanic will. They will do it right, but no more�and you couldn�t afford for them to do otherwise! You have the luxury of taking your time to accomplish unnecessary repainting, trimming, polishing, and fitting. In addition, you will learn things about your aircraft that may change the way in which you operate it, leading to greater economy and safety. And, speaking of economics, it makes no sense for a trained professional to spend time removing cowlings, interior and inspection plates if you can do it. Marchin� or fightin�, it all pays the same!

Whether or not you physically participate in your annual, you need to be involved in the documentation phase. Clear, concise records will save valuable time and money later. And, like the service record on a Mercedes, it will make your aircraft more valuable down the road. A considerable amount of an IA�s time is spent researching Airworthiness Directives (AD�s), and this can turn into real money fast! By assuring that your IA puts together comprehensive lists of one-time, recurring and non-applicable AD�s, you will greatly cut down on the research required next year. Remember, marchin� or fightin�, it all pays the same!

So, doing it right is cheaper in the long run. Find a good mechanic, participate in the work if you can, and assure that complete records of all maintenance are kept. While you�re at it, speak to your IA or A&P and find out about the preventive maintenance that you can legally do by yourself. You�ll sleep better at night knowing that your aircraft is top notch, but it will probably still generate strange noises on dark nights over hostile terrain!

Note: Renters, and those who fly other people�s aircraft, should also pay close attention to aircraft maintenance and records. Technically, if you act as pilot in command of an aircraft, you are responsible for its airworthiness and required inspections. Besides, who has the most to lose?

Jim McElvain is the Regional Safety Program Manager in the FAA�s Southwest Region.

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