Those pilots who have ever found themselves paying huge chunks of money on maintenance bills know that they can get quite expensive. What most people don’t realize, however, is that there are other simpler and less expensive ways to save on aircraft maintenance bills—and it all starts with the aircraft owners and operators themselves. Just take a look at some mechanics’ advice on how you can prevent that dreaded maintenance bill from ballooning. The money you save in the end will be well worth it.
It may surprise you, but the first and foremost thing that any aircraft owner and operator can do is to make sure that their aircraft has a complete set of logbooks. It’s a 100% owner and operator responsibility (according to FAR Part-91) that doesn’t always get the adequate attention that it needs. All records and logbooks need to be treated as someone would a wad of $1,000 bills because that’s what they essentially equate to. Nothing much else can certify the condition, quality and worth of an airplane. The value of any kind of airplane can be increased or drastically reduced based on the quality, condition and contents of these records. So don’t underestimate the importance of keeping records up to date, orderly and secured.
In a recent discussion with some A&P mechanics and IAs, changing the engine oil on a regular basis was their number-one response to what aircraft owners should do in order to prevent costly repairs and achieve maximum engine service life. Engine oil becomes contaminated with acids, water, carbon, metals and other contaminants through normal use and flying, which can cause accelerated wear and deterioration. How often to change the oil depends on the conditions under which the aircraft is operated, but a general rule is every 50 hours for aircraft equipped with a full-flow filter, and every 25 hours for those with only an oil screen, or every four months, in any case.
Next on the list, as elementary as it may seem, is to keep your airplane clean and waxed. A clean aircraft looks nice, but there are several more valid reasons to keep it that way. Dirt and grime on airframe surfaces, around rivet heads and in seams hold moisture that invites corrosion to set in. A clean, waxed aircraft also is more aerodynamic and allows easier detection of defects and leaks. Keeping an aircraft clean and waxed should be a regularly scheduled maintenance task and shouldn’t just be something to do when you have some spare time. After washing an aircraft, it should be greased and lubricated, and the pitot static ports should be checked for obstructions. While you’re at it, thoroughly inspect the whole aircraft for any deep scratches or abrasions, and if any are found, take care of them as soon as possible. At a minimum, sand down the area to remove any roughness or burrs, and touch it up with paint. This is important because most aircraft are constructed primarily of 2024-T3 aluminum, which has a thin cladding of pure aluminum on its outer surface that resists corrosion, but the cladding is just a couple thousandths of an inch thick. Below that layer is an alloyed metal that’s susceptible to corrosion. A deep scratch exposing the alloyed metal can eventually cause measurable harm and be expensive to repair. Keep in mind that corrosion is irreversible, and that surface protection is the best method of preventing it.
Taking good care of the aircraft records and logs, changing the engine oil and keeping an airplane clean and waxed are three fundamental actions that every owner can take to maximize his or her aircraft’s service life. If you’re the type who wants to get serious about maintaining your aircraft in tip-top condition and avoid costly unscheduled maintenance expenses, however, there’s much more that can be done. FAR Part 43 authorizes holders of a private-pilot certificate under Part 61 to perform preventive maintenance on any aircraft that is owned and operated by that pilot, as long as it isn’t used under Part 121, 127, 129 or 135. It also provides a real thorough list of more than 30 preventive maintenance tasks that can be accomplished as long as they don’t involve complex assemblies. Remember that the key words here are “preventive maintenance”—which actually means maintenance tasks that are done to prevent wear and deterioration. For one thing, you can change your engine oil yourself for a fraction of what it costs to have it done.
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