Monday, November 1, 2004
A forum of experienced A&P mechanics and IAs pass along tips to preserve the value and airworthiness of airplanes in the most cost-effective way
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.
You also can service all hydraulic shock struts, clean and rotate spark plugs to increase their service life, replace fuel filters, lubricate and grease almost any surface, change tires, make repairs to cracked fairings, clean up the battery compartment, replace light bulbs and safety wires and repair landing-light circuits. A year is too long of a time to go in between inspections, especially with items that require preventive maintenance during the year. Remember, for an airplane to be considered legally airworthy, it must conform to its type certificate, have all required ADs and inspections up to date and be in good condition, which means that the aircraft must be maintained between inspections. For example, a plane that makes many flights or touch-and-goes during the year should have its landing gear lubricated. So how does one learn how to do these tasks?
First of all, you must review FAR Parts 91 and 43. Then, buy a service manual for your aircraft. Next, start an account with an aircraft parts supply distributor and buy the company’s catalog. Once your account is established, you can order parts and supplies via the Internet and receive them in a couple of days. Start out by learning to do the simpler tasks. Buy a roll of .032 safety wire (which will, by the way, last a whole lifetime) as well as some inexpensive safety-wire pliers. Read up on safety-wiring techniques in the supplier’s catalog, your aircraft’s service manual or any basic aircraft maintenance textbook. It shouldn’t take you too long to master the art. Once you do, you’ll be able to keep all the safety wire in your aircraft in good condition. The next step is order the oils and lubricants that are specified in the service manual and then start lubricating your own aircraft as prescribed by the manual. As you gain knowledge and confidence in your burgeoning maintenance skills, you’ll only need a few more tools to be able to start changing your own engine oil with some assistance or training during the first time or two. As your knowledge about preventive maintenance grows, you can then learn to perform almost every aircraft repair that is authorized by FAR Part-43 and applies to your own airplane. But don’t forget that every task that you’ve accomplished requires an entry in the appropriate logbook in order to return the aircraft into service. It has to contain a description of the work performed, the date, your signature and the type of pilot certificate you hold.
And yet another good idea is to conduct a mid-annual aircraft inspection yourself, of course, only to the extent in which you’re authorized to do, by using the checklist in your own service manual. Make a list of discrepancies, and try to correct them when you can. When it comes time for the annual inspection, you’ll find that the aircraft will be in a much better condition. You also can arrange to assist the aircraft inspector during the annual inspection by removing any items like cowlings, performing lubrication requirements, changing the engine oil, greasing the wheel bearings and repairing any broken or loose safety wire. You’ll save money and time by doing this. If any kind of defect is found during the inspection that require a certified mechanic to make repairs, you can order the parts and supplies needed through your aircraft supplier’s catalog and provide them yourself, making the repair less expensive. You just need to ensure to check the catalog part numbers against those listed in your aircraft’s service manual to make sure they’re authorized replacements.
So, in essence, in order to preserve the value and airworthiness of your airplane, you need to maintain all of your records, keep the aircraft clean, change the engine oil, perform as much or as many of the FAR Part-43 preventive maintenance tasks as possible and keep the plane in good condition. There might be some investment and a little work involved, but in the long term, regular upkeep doesn’t cost a thing—it pays.
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