Maintenance is an area that’s totally foreign to most pilots, even those who own aircraft. Technicians have to deal with the same types of responsibility and regulations pilots do, however, so it’s good to know exactly what it is they do. Among those responsibilities is the authority to return an aircraft back to serviceable condition. It’s important to learn now what that means and what it doesn’t.
Part 43 of the federal aviation regulations specifies issues surrounding aircraft maintenance. Section 43.5 details returning an aircraft to service, and the first thing you’ll notice when you read it is that it says nothing about a qualified airframe and powerplant technician having to approve an aircraft for return to service. The reason is because aircraft owners and operators can do certain maintenance tasks on their own aircraft and make the necessary endorsements. Those tasks can be found in FAR 43 Appendix A. Section 43.5 is very basic. It boils down to three points–that the person returning to service must make a logbook entry, that the repair be made in accordance with a manner prescribed by the FAA, and that any change resulting in a performance or limitation change be noted appropriately in the flight manual.
Although simple in nature, the implications of the regulation are huge. Endorsements are the FAA’s equivalent of signing your name in blood. Flight instructors know this well. To put an endorsement in a logbook is to put your certificate on the line. It’s the same for flight instructors and mechanics. What that means for pilots is that in most cases, properly qualified maintenance technicians can be trusted to do their best to make the airplane safe and not return it to service before it’s ready. That’s evident in accident statistics where fewer than 20 percent of which are maintenance-related (that includes airborne failures of components that haven’t been previously worked on).
With that being said, mistakes do happen. There have been documented cases of accidents that occurred as a result of a maintenance flub. As a pilot, you can do some simple things to avoid such a situation.
1. Get to know your maintenance personnel
If your school doesn’t have a shop and you don’t already know these professionals, make the effort to go to the shop where work on your school aircraft is done. The benefits to having a personal connection with a maintenance tech are many. Most will let you look over their shoulder while they work, which means you’ll get some intimate knowledge not only of the type of work these folks do, but also the systems on your airplane. They can be a go-to source for systems questions, and you’ll less intimated in the future to casually ask them about an issue with your training airplane. Plus, maybe you’ll find your mechanic for your own future airplane in the process.
2. Read maintenance logbooks
Knowing who did what to the airplane is imperative. Many schools make this quite difficult because the maintenance logs are understandably locked away for safe keeping. But if an airplane’s been down–or even if it hasn’t–take the time to study the logs and ensure you know what has been done to it in the recent past.
3. Do thorough preflight checks
This point can’t be overstated. If you’ve ever wondered why we do a control check before takeoff, maintenance is one of the reasons. Many accidents have been caused by aircraft controls being hooked up backward after maintenance. This is especially true of the annual or 100-hour inspections, where these components are inspected. A control check is cheap and quick insurance against a senseless accident. There are many such examples of this. Carefully checking things such as oil, inspection plates, tires, and cockpit instruments could save you a heap of trouble.
Although some owners can fall into these traps, it’s much easier for them to keep track of maintenance records because they retain possession of the important documents. But students are no less immune to the issue. They just have to try harder to keep up with it.
Ever find a maintenance problem after the airplane has been returned to service or know someone who has? Tell us about it.