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Lining Up the Proper Documents for Your New Airplane Can Be a Formidable Task. Fortunately, AOPA Can Help

Legend suggests that there was a time when a handshake was enough to complete a transaction, but the days when a man's word was his bond (if those days ever really existed) have passed. Today's world is tightly regulated by paperwork and bureaucrats.

Securing and processing the proper forms you need to operate a new airplane according to federal and local regulations can be a confusing and tedious task if you choose to tackle it all by yourself, but as we shall see, AOPA can provide a considerable amount of assistance in lining up the proper documents. First, let's untangle some of the red tape and see what we are up against.

We'll start on familiar ground, with the mnemonic AROW. The letters stand for the documents that must be carried aboard an airplane. They are an airworthiness certificate, registration certificate, operating limitations, and weight and balance information.

A current airworthiness certificate is required (by FAR 91.203) to be displayed in an airplane where it can be read by everyone aboard. An airworthiness certificate usually is transferred with an airplane when it is sold, but the certificate alone does not fulfill the regulatory requirement. A buyer must ensure that the airworthiness certificate is, as the regulation specifies, current. A Standard Airworthiness Certificate ( FAA Form 8130-6) remains current as long as the airplane is maintained according to regulations and is properly registered, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Aircraft owners are required to keep records of all inspections and maintenance required by regulations, as well as any major repairs and alterations. Before purchasing an airplane, you should study the airplane's engine and airframe logbooks to determine if the maintenance and recordkeeping requirements have been fulfilled.

Check for the following information: the total time in service of the airframe, engine(s), and propeller(s); current status of any life-limited parts; time since overhaul of any component that is required to be overhauled at specific intervals; status of compliance with required inspections; status of compliance with applicable airworthiness directives, and copies of descriptions of major repairs and alterations (FAA Form 337s) that have been performed on the airplane.

The FARs also include inspection requirements for specific equipment. For example, if the airplane has a transponder, you should check the logbooks to ensure that the unit was tested within the past 24 calendar months (as required by FAR 91.413).

If you buy an airplane that did not pass a required inspection, you will have to have the appropriate repairs performed and signed off before you can fly the airplane. The FAA may approve a ferry permit so that you can fly the airplane to another airport where the work can be performed. You can apply for the Special Flight Permit at a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO).

Airworthiness directives (ADs) are, literally, federal aviation regulations. An airplane may not be operated unless all applicable ADs have been complied with (FAR 39.3). Therefore, it is very important, when reviewing an airplane's maintenance records, to check for evidence of compliance with all applicable ADs.

If you employ a bit of Holmesian deduction, the airplane's maintenance records may reveal damage history that the owner may not have mentioned. You won't find any tattletale descriptions such as "Airplane landed gear-up, 3/13/87," but you may find such clues as "Fuselage belly skin replaced, 3/14/87." Be skeptical.

As mentioned earlier, an airplane must be properly registered to maintain a current airworthiness certificate. You can re-register an airplane in your own name (and your co-owners' names, if there are any) by sending an Aircraft Registration Application AC Form 8050-1, evidence of ownership, and a recording fee to the FAA Aircraft Registry, AAC-250, Post Office Box 25504, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73125. This form is produced as a carbon copy, and can be obtained by calling the Pilot Information Center at 1/800/USA-AOPA (1-800-872-2672), or from your local FSDO. Evidence of ownership can either be an Aircraft Bill of Sale ( AC Form 8050-2) or a conditional sales contract.

After completing the registration application, mail the white and green copies to the FAA, and keep the pink copy as evidence of your application. It will serve as temporary authorization to fly your airplane in the United States until the FAA mails you a Certificate of Aircraft Registration. The certificate is valid until the airplane is sold again, registered in another country, destroyed or scrapped, or until its owner dies.

You can count on extra paperwork and an additional fee if you want to change the airplane's registration number. You can list five different N numbers (actually, either one to four numbers with a suffix letter or one to three numbers with two suffix letters, following the U.S. designation "N"), in order of preference, in a written request forwarded with your registration application. The FAA will let you know which of the five numbers is being reserved for your airplane. But before you paint the new number on your airplane, you have to send another written request to the FAA. The agency will send you another document (AC Form 8050-64), giving permission to change the number. After doing so, you must sign and return one copy of the form to the FAA and present the other copy, as well as the airplane's airworthiness certificate, to an FAA inspector, who will issue a new airworthiness certificate showing the new number.

As noted earlier in this publication, the requirement for an FCC Radio Station License was dropped for operation within the continental United States. The final documents — operating limitations and weight and balance data — for relatively new airplanes usually can be found in the approved airplane flight manual. The information for other airplanes may be found on separate documents. You should check to see that all applicable placards listed in the limitations section of the pilot's operating handbook are installed in the airplane. Also, the weight and balance data should be up-to-date and accompanied by a current equipment list.

Now that I may have given you the impression that the paperwork will overgross your new airplane and tie up your spare time for the next few months, let me repeat the good news: AOPA can help. AOPA’s Strategic Partner, Aero-Space Reports, provides Aircraft Title and Escrow Services for AOPA members.

With more than 40 years of experience, Aero-Space Reports understands that outstanding customer service and accuracy are the keys to making the aircraft purchase process as simple as possible for our members.