The Paper Trail

December 1, 1983

The story of an airworthiness directive is often a case history in aircraft owner anguish. Of the various forms of annoyance that complying with ADs can entail for the owner, the major Boom of irritation is the cost.

Take, for example, AD 81-13-10, which affected some 18,000 owners of aircraft with Continental I0-360 engines. The AD called for inspection and, if necessary, replacement of the engine's oil pump drive gear. The drive gear itself cost $171, and Continental reimbursed owners for a portion of the cost of the part, depending on the age of the engine. The really noxious aspect of complying with the AD, though, was paying the labor charge, which amounted to as much as $1,600 for some twin-engine aircraft. Unless the airplane was under warranty, owners received no help from Continental for this expense.

ADs represent a hidden cost in the price of an airplane, a cost the purchaser of a new airplane cannot anticipate. Buyers of used aircraft are somewhat more fortunate in that they can investigate an aircraft's AD history before buying. But even owners of older aircraft are sometimes hit with costly ADs after more than 20 years of trouble-free service from their airplanes.

Nevertheless, the used aircraft shopper will find a knowledge of the headaches ADs can create and what sources are available for researching an airplane's AD and maintenance history particularly useful when making purchase decisions.

The Federal Aviation Administration's intention in issuing ADs, of course, is not to aggravate aircraft owners, but to prevent accidents. ADs are amendments to an airplane's type certificate. They are, therefore, regulations with which compliance is mandatory.

AD numbers denote the date of an AD's issuance. AD 83-02-06, for example, indicates the AD was published in 1983, in the second biweekly issuance and was the sixth in sequence.

There are three types of ADs: emergency ADs, immediate adopted rules, and notices of proposed rule making (NPRMs). Emergency ADs are issued when the FAA believes the danger is clear-cut and the problem must be dealt with immediately. In this situation, the FAA will notify the owner of each affected aircraft by telegram or priority mail, and ' the AD becomes effective upon receipt. Immediate adopted rules are ADs of a slightly less urgent nature. The FAA distributes these ADs to owners by first-class mail. An NPRM is published in the Federal Register when the FAA believes an unsafe condition has been discovered in a product, but does not believe the threat is great enough to warrant an immediate rule. A comment period of 60 days usually is established to allow interested parties to give the FAA their opinions on the proposed regulation. Almost invariably, however, the NPRM is adopted as a final rule.

Compliance with an AD may require immediately action — such as grounding an aircraft or changing operations — until a fix can be made. A recent AD, 83-14-07, affecting Piper Aerostars requires takeoff and landings to be made without flaps and narrows the CG range in which the airplane can be flown. Piper and Machen Aircraft both have developed aerodynamic devices which allow the aircraft to be operated within its full allowable CC range and with the use of flaps.

AD 83-17-05 against E33 and F33C acrobatic Bonanzas revokes the aircraft's Acrobatic category certificate because of the airplane's power-off characteristics. The airplane still can be flown in the Utility category, or it can be returned to Acrobatic category status by installing two wedge-shape vortex generators on the wings' leading edge. An expensive inspection of the tail (approximately $2,500) must also be performed every 1,000 hours to operate the airplane in the Acrobatic category

Some ADs require a mechanical fix to be made within so many hours of operation, or within a certain time period. Others require mandated periodic inspection intervals such as every 25 hours or every 20,000 hours. Several models of Hartzell constant-speed propellers require inspections varying in frequency from every 1,000 hours to before the first flight of the day (a simple visual check).

One compelling reason for researching an airplane's AD history is to avoid paying an inflated price for an aircraft that-is due for a costly inspection. The cost 'of AD compliance-like the cost of "overhauling a run-out engine should be factored into the purchase price of a used airplane.

Several models of aircraft require expensive wing spar inspections and may be offered for sale when the inspections are due. Beech 18s, for example, have their wing spars inspected every 500 hours unless a wing gap has been added, in which case the inspection is required every 1,500 hours (AD 75-27-09). The inspection can cost more than $5000.

To some aircraft owners, the FAA may seem capricious in its issuance of ADs. But there is always some impetus — be it an accident or a series of reports on a defective part — that leads to the FAA issuing an AD. Some ADs are the end result of an FAA and/or National Transportation Safety Board investigation. Frequently, the FAA may decide to issue an AD after analyzing a series of maintenance or defect reports (MDRs) submitted by mechanics and airplane operators as part of the FAA's Service Difficulty Program. The pro gram is designed to identify aircraft problems encountered during routine operations or maintenance. Booklets of maintenance or defect report forms are available from general aviation district offices (GADOs). MDRs first are reviewed by the local GADO to determine if the problem being reported requires immediate attention. Items deemed potentially hazardous to flight are telephoned directly to the FAA's Safety Data Branch in Oklahoma City. These items are immediately referred to the type certificate holding region for prompt attention. Less critical MDRs are mailed to the Safety Data Branch where they are stored in a computerized data bank. Once the MDRs have been processed by the FAA, they are referred to as service difficulty reports (SDRs).

Service difficulty data are retained in the data banks for five years in order to detect trends and failure rates. Selected SDRs are condensed and published monthly by the FAA in advisory circular 43-16, General Aviation Airworthiness Alerts. The monthly bulletin is designed to be used principally by mechanics and authorized inspectors.

The airworthiness alerts are anything but reassuring reading. Frequent perusal of them might convince you that a typical, used general aviation airplane was made entirely of corroded metal, rotting tubing and frayed wire. Here are a few examples:

Cessna Model 150. The vertical fin aft fittings were found corroded. The corrosion had progressed to the degree that the rivets were popping out.

Cessna Model 182. A fuel cell was replaced because of a leak. During fueling of a new cell, a severe leak was evident. An investigation disclosed the vent interconnect line was leaking through the wall of the flexible hose connection. The hose was badly weather checked, and there was evidence of previous seepage.

Piper Model PA-28RT-201. The manual electric trim wire harness was found cut where the wires exit the end of the left yoke column. One wire was found severed, and other wires were found with cut insulation. Full back pressure on the yoke pulls the harness against the yoke column bushing on the instrument panel. Time on aircraft: 86 hours.

If you are considering the purchase of a used aircraft, a list of service difficulty reports can provide you with an idea of the airplane's maintenance history and can suggest some places to look when inspecting the aircraft.

AOPA's Aircraft and Airmen Records Department can provide you with such a list. The average cost of the computer print-out is between $75 and $85; an estimate is available upon request.

Aircraft and Airmen Records provides several services of potential value to the used-airplane buyer, including an accident/incident history for an individual aircraft by registration number ($35 for members; $45 for non-members) and a complete AD history for an aircraft ($45 for members; $55 for nonmembers). Aircraft and Airmen records can provide you with these lists within a few days of your request. For more information, contact the Aircraft and Airmen Records Department, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Post Office Box 19244, Southwest Station, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73114; 800/654-4700. Alaska, Oklahoma and Hawaii, 405/682-2511. Telex: 747265

AeroTech Publications, Incorporated, offers its AD List service for prospective aircraft buyers. The AD List provides all ADs for a series of aircraft, such as all Beech Bonanzas or all Cessna 172s, and includes instructions for researching an aircraft's logbooks to check for compliance. The AD List for one series of aircraft costs $17.95.

The company also offers an ongoing AD service for aircraft owners. The company's AD Log provides owners with a loose-leaf binder containing airframe, engine and avionics logs, plus ADs printed on the same page with their associated maintenance compliance forms. The AD Log costs between $36 and $88 depending on aircraft. The annual renewal fee is $11 for piston singles and $13 for piston twins, turboprops and jets. The company's address is: AeroTech Publications, Post Office Box 528, Old Bridge, New Jersey 08857, 201/679-5151. '

Manufacturers sometimes request ADs when they become aware of an unsafe condition, through an accident investigation, the SDR program or their own testing. Often, the subject of the AD first will be incorporated in a manufacturer's service bulletin. As a general practice, many manufacturers, including Cessna, Beech, Piper and Mooney, send such service bulletins to all FAA registered owners of affected aircraft. If you fly a U.S.-built aircraft registered in. another country, the manufacturers may not be sending you such bulletins. You can be placed on a manufacturer's mailing fist by contacting your local dealer or the manufacturer's service department. Many countries have bilateral agreements with the United States through which they issue the FAA's ADs. However, not all countries fall under these provisions.

An aircraft owner cannot force accompany to pay for' compliance with an AD. Manufacturers almost invariably will pay for AD repairs on aircraft under warranty, but usually will pay only a prorated portion of the cost of affected components on other aircraft. Labor costs may or may not be covered by the company. Once the aircraft is out of warranty, the owner is, more often than not, out of luck.

Manufacturers are extremely cagey about defining their policies for paying AD-generated repair bills. Company service representatives and lawyers say there are no set rules for determining what portion, if any, of an AD's cost a company will pay. One general rule of thumb, however, states that manufacturers will pay some portion of the cost if the failure of a part had nothing to do with normal wear and tear. A related generalization suggests that the more blatant a manufacturer's design or manufacturing mistake, the more probable it is that the company will assume a large percentage of the cost of rectifying the error. A case in point is the discovery of trim tab flutter on the Cessna Conquest, a flaw that led to a fatal crash in 1977, the year the airplane was introduced. The FAA subsequently issued AD 79-19-13 requiring the replacement of much of the tail structure prior to the next flight. Cessna covered the entire cost of complying with the AD and even provided Cessna 400 series aircraft to Conquest owners at no cost until their Conquests could be modified.

So far, there has been nothing in the aircraft industry similar to the Ralph Nader-inspired ground swell of public opinion that led to the automobile industry's recall system, whereby the manufacturer pays to rectify design or manufacturing errors. A couple of attempts to legislate such a change have been made in the U.S. Congress, but staunch opposition from manufacturers helped to squelch them.

A case now pending in a Pennsylvania state court may have some bearing on future court decisions on the question of who is to pay for AD compliance. The case, Rausch v. United Instruments, was initiated in 1974 and stems from AD 74-24-13, which affected some 74,000 altimeters manufactured by the Tokyo Aircraft Instrument Corporation (TKK) and distributed in the United States by United Instruments. The cost of compliance was about $75 per altimeter and was paid entirely by aircraft owners. A class-action suit was filed by some owners. Their attorney, Arthur Alan Wolk, argues that the manufacturer was aware of defects in the product but continued to sell it without modification. In effect, Wolk says, TKK was knowingly producing a product that did not meet federal standards, was therefore in violation of the law and is liable for defects in its product.

Owners interested in being compensated for the cost of compliance with the TKK altimeter AD can send a copy of the repair invoice or some indication of payment for the repair of the altimeter, plus a name, address, telephone number and aircraft number to: Arthur Alan Wolk Associates, 1712 Locust Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103.

"If I win the case," said Wolk, "it will be an indication that AD compliance might have to be paid for by manufacturers. And that alone may give them an incentive to help pay the cost of compliance."

Even with a change in the attitude of manufacturers, used aircraft purchasers should continue to operate on the principle of buyer beware. Thoroughly researching an airplane's AD and maintenance history will help minimize the risk of paying AD-related expenses.