As an aviation community, we make a lot of noise about getting a good pre-buy inspection and thoroughly reviewing aircraft logbooks before making the leap into aircraft ownership. But can we say the same about encouraging our fellow owner/pilots to be meticulous in maintaining their planes?
We do an even worse job of educating new owners on the subject of deferred maintenance. Renting a safe, well-maintained airplane from your local FBO does not adequately prepare you for ownership, as I found out during that first year or two of aircraft ownership.
I learned only through trial and error—I made the errors, and it was a trial on my patience, not to mention my bank account. Some of the mistakes I made were on the conservative side of the coin, having the shop fix optional items out of ignorance and concern for safety, when, in reality, they weren’t really safety issues at all.
Older airframes need expensive maintenance. It is reality. I have owned three aircraft from the 1970s (one as a partnership) and operated out of an airport near the ocean. My 1970s-era airplanes had their share of corrosion problems, and on more than one occasion taking care of it wasn’t cheap.
I’ve been reviewing the amount of money I spent on my Cessna 182, which I sold recently, trying to understand why my shop’s bills were what they were. I’ll admit to being particular about how I maintain my airplanes, and over the four years I owned the Skylane, I don’t recall ever having an annual where I did not do at least a few “optional” items.
While everyone has their perspective on maintenance, I got to thinking of the times I have chosen to defer maintenance and what I’ve learned from that decision.
As every airplane owner knows, these optional items are typically the ones the mechanic tells you would be great to make but wouldn’t stop the plane from getting its signoff. One thing I discovered is that these “optional” items tend to move inexorably toward “required” if left alone long enough. In the example of my Cessna 182, corrosion issues caused me finally to act and replace the flap and aileron skins. The sheer volume of spot treatments in addressing the issue spot by spot was really adding up. So I bit the bullet and had the skins replaced. Likewise, cracked wheel leg fairings worsened to a point where it was prudent to swap them out, too, though I could have deferred.
There is no shortage of tough decisions to be made as an aircraft owner; deferred maintenance is one of those hard calls to make. While it feels as though it’s saving money by putting off the repair or fixing it little by little, in the long run, in most cases it drives up the cost.