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Win-Win: Learn and Save with Owner Assisted Inspections

Source:, By Sabrina Woods

Well, if you are anything like me (and a few million others) you weren’t one of the big winners in the historic Powerball lottery that recently occurred. Which means you might also be the type of person who looks for an opportunity to save a bit of money from time to time. For aircraft owners, one great way to save is by working with a certified aircraft maintenance technician (AMT) on any inspections (100-hour, condition, annual, etc.) that might come due. The added bonus? You get to learn a lot more about the inner workings of your bird at the same time.

14 CFR 91.403(a) spells it out: “the owner or operator of an aircraft is primarily responsible for maintaining that aircraft in an airworthy condition ... .” And while you might not be authorized to perform any part of an annual inspection — that responsibility is for certificated mechanics or repair stations who have an inspection authorization (IA) rating only — there is certainly no reason why you shouldn’t get involved in any maintenance leading up to, or that might become required as a result of that inspection. In fact, it is encouraged.

Go On and Get Dirty

As an owner/operator you can help perform maintenance actions on your aircraft so long as you do so under the direct supervision of an airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic. Provided you can work out an agreement with yours, the things you might learn can go a long way into enhancing your understanding of how different aircraft systems integrate with one another, and what could happen when any one item fails.

Some general maintenance actions you can take part in include removal of panels, cowlings and fairings; draining and refilling engine oil; removing and replacing screens, filters, lines, and tubes; leak and rigging checks; and of course, giving the aircraft a good clean inside and out, to name a few. And don’t forget that every panel you remove and reinstall is one less task your A&P has to do. That means costs go down, and so does the time your plane is out of service.

No Time?

I fully understand that because you didn’t win the lottery, you probably don’t have an infinite amount of free time on your hands. You, like I, likely have a “daytime” job that affords you the ability to keep you (and your bird) properly housed and fed. While I insist that taking the time out to participate in an annual inspection, at least once, is well worth your investment, if taking that much time just can’t be done, I offer a few alternatives.

The first is to sit down with your IA before and after the inspection to have a detailed conversation about how it is going to go and later on, how it went. What you are trying to achieve is a better understanding of any trending issues your IA might be aware of, and the approach he or she is going to take in ensuring your aircraft is up to task. Next, after the inspection, go through the discrepancy list (if there is one) and the aircraft forms very carefully to ensure you understand each and every write-up and for what reason that determination was made. In addition, you will want to follow up with your A&P to make sure the maintenance gets done and inquire about how it was done.

If you can’t be there for the entire duration, try to at least go out, roll up your sleeves, and join in for the initial de-panel/removal of components. This task will give you the opportunity to work through the parts and aircraft manual, and have some hands-on experience using the right tools for the job. Just that one day can be eye-opening for the inexperienced.

Another option is that once the panels are opened up for the inspection, take a day to go out and have your technician familiarize you with the inner workings of the aircraft and point out any discrepancies he or she is seeing before the corrective maintenance takes place. Then go out again once the maintenance is complete so you can have a clear before and after understanding of what went on.

The benefits are huge in participating in owner assisted inspections. Time and cost savings, getting to know the intimate bits of your plane, and the best part — peace of mind knowing exactly what was done and how. It’s a win-win situation.

Sabrina Woods is an associate editor for FAA Safety Briefing. She spent 12 years as an aircraft maintenance officer and an aviation mishap investigator in the Air Force.

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