Answers for Pilots

Bulletin or directive?

May 1, 2006

The difference is crucial

Aircraft maintenance is serious business. Putting the obvious safety considerations aside, not complying with airworthiness directives and the associated maintenance regulations could mean enforcement trouble for the aircraft owner or operator, as well as for the mechanic. The key to complying with certain maintenance regulations is knowing what applies to your situation and what does not. The terms airworthiness directives, or ADs, and service bulletins are often used interchangeably, but the two mean very different things for most owners.

Service bulletins are created and issued by the manufacturer, and more often than not contain proprietary information. That usually means paying a fee to obtain copies, although most mechanics do have access to the bulletins. What's more, service bulletins are voluntary for Part 91 owners and operators. Usually a service bulletin will remain an advisory document that simply alerts the owner of a potentially unsafe maintenance condition. Whether it's complied with is completely up to the owner or operator.

ADs are an entirely different animal. They are issued directly from the FAA and are mandatory. Each AD that is issued must go through the FAA's rulemaking process, which requires a notice of proposed rulemaking and a public comment period. Typically, this is when groups like AOPA chime in on behalf of owners. After the comment period, the FAA looks at all the comments and technical data to make a determination. Usually the proposal is issued as a final rule with any number of changes.

Perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of keeping up with AD compliance is knowing when the work or inspection has to be completed. The directives are issued either as a one-time inspection or maintenance item, or as a recurring event. The inspection period can be either calendar or aircraft time. Either way, keeping track of the required compliance dates and times is essential.

Keeping track of records is not a difficult task for owners with a trusting mechanic, but aircraft renters are often left out in the cold. Even if a renter has access to the records, going over them is often tedious and confusing. For those who fly a different airplane every lesson, it's nearly impossible. It therefore comes down to trusting the flight school to make sure the maintenance is taken care of. If it's not, the renter could be considered at fault as well.

ADs are meant to increase safety. Complying with them is mandatory, and many times a serious safety concern prompts their issuance. Keep accurate records and call AOPA's Pilot Information Center for more information. As owners, many of the specialists have suffered through numerous ADs over the years. You can reach them during normal business hours at 800/USA-AOPA.

Membership Q&A

Answers to frequently asked questions about your AOPA membership

Q: A friend of mine who's an AOPA member says he gets a weekly e-mail from AOPA that's full of great information. How can I start receiving it?

A: AOPA members can subscribe to our weekly AOPA ePilot newsletter simply by providing an e-mail address. Just send us an e-mail at memberservices@aopa.org, provide your member number and e-mail address, and tell us you'd like to start receiving ePilot. Or call Member Services at 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672), from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time Monday through Friday, and we'll be glad to help.

Q: Is it true that I can get additional entries into the 2006 AOPA sweepstakes by enrolling in the Automatic Annual Renewal plan?

A: Yes! We really appreciate it when members help us save money by eliminating renewal mailings. Those savings can be put toward GA programs and services and can help us keep membership dues low for all AOPA members. So as an added incentive, Automatic Annual Renewal participants receive a total of three entries in the 2006 sweepstakes, which features a refurbished 260-horsepower 1967 Piper Cherokee Six. Automatic Annual Renewal participants also save $4 off their membership their first year of participation, and $2 off every year thereafter, providing they use an AOPA MasterCard or Visa.

Q: Do you provide any membership phone support after your normal business hours?

A: Yes. On the weekends and in the evenings after 6 p.m. (ET), you can use our automated voice system to renew your membership, enroll in Automatic Annual Renewal, or reset your password if you're having trouble logging in to our Web site. Call 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672) and follow the prompts.

Contact information:

Phone: 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672), 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday
After hours: Renew your membership, reset your Web password, or enroll in Automatic Annual Renewal using our self-service touch-tone phone option.

E-mail: memberservices@aopa.org.

Web: Update your personal information, renew your membership, and much more by clicking on My AOPA Membership in the left column of our home page.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly | "Flight Training" Editor

Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.