Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Protecting Your Freedom to Fly

Safety Publications/Articles

Airworthiness And The CFI

Understand Your Responsibilities

A pilot examiner asked a CFI candidate to name the three "persons" responsible for the airworthiness of an aircraft. The candidate answered the pilot in command but didn't know the other two. The examiner explained that the owner or operator is primarily responsible for the airworthiness of an aircraft (FAR 91.403). Also the mechanic who signed off any required inspections is responsible (FAR 43.11).

The examiner went on to ask how an aircraft can be legally altered. The candidate knew of the supplemental type certificate (STC) but not the other two - issuance of an airworthiness directive (AD) or an FAA Field Approval.

The examiner gave the CFI candidate one last chance. "Explain how the gear extension system works in the test airplane, and what do you look for during the preflight to ensure safe operation?" The candidate had a general idea of how the system worked, but he did not know how to check the hydraulic fluid level or where the "squat switch" was located.

At that time, the examiner issued the candidate a "signed salmon-colored invitation for a re-examination," formally known as the Notice of Disapproval of Application.

If you really want to embarrass yourself, show up at the FSDO for the practical test and have the inspector ground your airplane because of airworthiness issues. Not only have you failed the practical test, but you also have no way to get home. The message to the examiner is that you didn't know enough about airworthiness to bring an airplane that was actually airworthy for the practical test.

Recently, the FAA sent a letter to all organizations that offer Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics (FIRC), expressing concern about the "significant de- ficiency that exists in the knowledge some CFI applicants may have concerning how to determine the airworthiness status of an aircraft and how to present this information to their students." FIRC sponsors were asked to include a section on airworthiness in their refresher clinics.

The FAA's concerns stem from feedback from examiners that some CFI candidates, while strong in flight and teaching skills, were lacking in the specifics of what makes an airplane not airworthy.

One important training activity where students learn the most about airworthiness is the preflight inspection. An instructor who takes the time and effort to thoroughly teach students how to perform a proper preflight provides first-hand knowledge of aircraft systems and what to look for to ensure safe flight. Often instructors, pressed for time, will let students do their own preflight without any supervision. The instructor may check for proper fuel and oil, then concentrate on teaching tasks such as flight maneuvers and takeoffs and landings.

One of the activities at some aviation events is the preflight contest where pilots are asked to identify as many discrepancies as they can. This includes paperwork as well as mechanical shortcomings.

Before the practical test, students should be aware of the proper entries in the aircraft engine and airframe logbooks. It doesn't look good for a private pilot candidate to rummage through the logbooks in front of the examiner, looking for annual, 100-hour, ELT, and transponder inspections as well as AD compliance without really knowing what they mean when they find them. A better idea is to work with the student so he or she has the inspections tabbed in the logbooks and knows what the entries represent.

Knowledge of airworthiness factors is essential to flight safety. If some CFI candidates aren't aware of these critical issues, we can assume some students are not aware either.

By Richard Hiner

Back to the Index of Instructor Reports