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Owner-Performed Preventive Maintenance

By Tom Hoffmann

Source: FAA Safety Briefing, Jan/Feb 2020

spark plugs

What better way to know your aircraft than to pull out that tool box, peel back those cowlings, and perform some preventive maintenance? Pilots who perform preventive maintenance reap the benefits of knowing more about the inner workings of engines and airframes, as well as all their associated systems and components. In addition, AMTs can better communicate with these pilots because their improved technical know-how enables them to help diagnose difficulties.

One of the best ways to prepare for your first foray into aviation maintenance is to understand the basics. This “Know Your Aircraft” issue (FAA Safety Briefing Jan/Feb 2020) is a start, but dust off those pilot handbooks and manuals for a good refresher on aircraft engines, propellers, electrical systems, landing gear, and more. You can also track down the maintenance manuals for your specific aircraft and examine diagrams and procedures in detail. If you are changing spark plugs or oil filters, you need to understand the systems these components impact.

So exactly what kind of maintenance can you legally perform on your aircraft? If you hold at least a private pilot certificate issued under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 61 and your aircraft is not used under 14 CFR parts 121, 129, or 135, you may perform preventive maintenance on your own aircraft. To see a list of the 31 items a pilot can perform without supervision, see Appendix A in 14 CFR part 43 (bit.ly/43AppA). Examples include:

  • Removal, installation, and repair of landing-gear tires
  • Replacing or cleaning spark plugs and setting of spark plug gap clearance
  • Replacement/adjustment of non-structural standard fasteners incidental to operations

Before you start changing tires, be sure you understand an often overlooked detail that can affect your eligibility to perform these tasks. 14 CFR section 1.1 defines preventive maintenance as “... simple or minor preservation operations and the replacement of small standard parts not involving complex assembly operations.” The key word here is complex.

Due to differences in aircraft design and accessibility of certain components, a procedure like changing an oil filter may be a simple job on some aircraft, but complex on others. Owners and pilots must use good judgment in determining whether a specific function appropriately qualifies as preventive maintenance. When in doubt, talk to a mechanic.

Be sure you also understand all facets of the work you plan to perform, along with careful attention to all applicable regulations. Pilots performing preventive maintenance are bound by the same regulations as any certificated AMT. This includes making certain you have all available tools, equipment, and test apparatus necessary for any maintenance task. You’ll also need all associated reference materials and manuals. In particular, 14 CFR section 43.13(a) states that each person performing maintenance — pilot or mechanic — is required to use “the methods, techniques, and practices prescribed in the current manufacturer’s maintenance manuals ... or data acceptable to the Administrator.”

This is important; glossing over something like prescribed torque values can have deadly consequences. Tighter does not always mean better! Finally, if the job seems the least bit complicated, or includes any step that is beyond your ability, put down the tool, step away, and seek help. Have someone who knows the task well walk you through the steps.

Performing maintenance on your aircraft can have several important benefits. It can save time, money, and can open doors to a new level of understanding your aircraft. But along with this new knowledge comes responsibilities. With good practices, the proper tools and materials, and a professional attitude, you’ll be sure to “maintain” your way to greater safety.

Learn More

Advisory Circular (AC) 43-12A, Preventive Maintenance - bit.ly/AC43-12

FAA Safety Briefing, Mar/Apr 2010, “Maintaining Your Way to Greater Safety” - bit.ly/2oLZoEy

Tom Hoffmann is the managing editor of FAA Safety Briefing. He is a commercial pilot and holds an A&P certificate.

 

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