Answers for Pilots

Do it yourself?

December 1, 1999

Thirty-two ways to save on maintenance

If one were to generalize about aircraft owners, it would probably be safe to say that the majority enjoy tinkering with their aircraft — polishing that wing tip with the back of their elbow, cleaning the windshield with a new product, opening up the cowling to check the engine. Preventive maintenance can go a long way toward saving on the high cost of flying, but how much is too much — at least according to the FAA?

"Of all the questions we receive at the Pilot Information Center, one of high interest to pilots is preventive maintenance," said Craig Brown, senior aviation technical specialist. "They ask, 'As an owner, what can I do on my airplane without a mechanic?' And the basic premise is you can't do anything, according to the FAA. However, there are exceptions, and they are quite valuable to the owner/pilot."

Part 43 of the federal aviation regulations specifies who may do what to an aircraft in the way of maintenance, repair, or alteration. It requires that only properly certified mechanics work on aircraft and OK them for return to service. However, it does allow preventive maintenance to be performed by a certificated pilot, holding a private certificate, on an aircraft owned or operated by that pilot, provided that the aircraft is not used in commercial service.

Brown has reviewed the FAA's list of 32 items that a certificated private pilot and aircraft owner can do to his aircraft. Learning how to correctly perform some of this maintenance and make correct logbook entries may require the guidance of a certified mechanic the first time through. These items are included in AOPA's Pilot's Guide to Preventive Maintenance and are posted on AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/members/files/fars/far-43.html).

In fact, the aviation specialists at AOPA's Pilot Information Center will probably encourage you to "get greasy" if you are thinking about attempting some maintenance on your aircraft. Performing some hands-on tasks will increase your knowledge of your airplane. The idea is that the more you know, the better pilot you can be. The 32 items that a certificated private owner/pilot can perform under FAR 43 Appendix A(c) are still subject to scrutiny by the FAA, of course.

Items such as removal and repair of tires, lubrication not requiring disassembly other than removal of nonstructural items such as cover plates and cowlings, replenishing hydraulic fluid in the hydraulic reservoir, and making simple repairs to fairings and nonstructural cover plates are among the items permitted under the privileges of preventive maintenance.

There are two clear advantages to performing some maintenance tasks on your airplane: one, savings; two, increased familiarity with your aircraft. Savings can also be realized by preparing your aircraft for its annual inspection. You can, for example, remove the access panels prior to the inspection, thereby reducing the amount of time spent by your mechanic in prepping the airplane. And, added Brown, "Most pilots lack understanding about the workings of their aircraft because the basic instruction for a private pilot certificate does not address it. But it's very beneficial to get to know your aircraft."

The FARs require that anyone who works on an aircraft must have the appropriate maintenance and service information available. Before you set out to perform preventive maintenance on your airplane, you must have the proper manuals on hand. Maintenance manuals can be fairly expensive, but they will save time, money, and aggravation. The aviation specialists at the Pilot Information Center can provide information on how to obtain manuals for your specific aircraft.

Interested in doing even more work on your aircraft? The FARs also allow a person working under the direct supervision of a mechanic to perform maintenance, preventive maintenance, and alterations.

This regulation, 43.3(d), allows you to do any work that your mechanic agrees to authorize and supervise. Understandably, few mechanics these days may be willing to do this, but if you have a good working relationship with your mechanic and possess the skills necessary for the task, it could be an option.

Maintenance records must be kept regardless of who performs the work. This should be done carefully and religiously, both to fulfill the legal requirements of the FARs and to keep an accurate maintenance history of your aircraft. If your local mechanic is letting you work on your aircraft in his facility or you have him around for guidance, remember that time is still money. You should compensate him for his time and advice.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resource anywhere for information and answers for pilots. The AOPA toll-free Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of aviation. The center, 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672), is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. All of the information mentioned is also available on the Web (www.aopa.org) .

Julie Summers Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Director of Publications, Managing Editor for 'AOPA Pilot' and 'Flight Training'

AOPA Director of Publications and Managing Editor for AOPA Pilot and Flight Training, Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.