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Sun, May 07, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (05.07.06): Maintenance Flights

Aero-Tips!

A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.") It's part of what makes aviation so exciting for all of us... just when you think you've seen it all, along comes a scenario you've never imagined.

Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner, master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us -- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators, and as representatives of the flying community. Some of them, you may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we might never have considered before, or something that didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for the practical test.

It is our unabashed goal that "Aero-Tips" will help our readers become better, safer pilots -- as well as introducing our ground-bound readers to the concepts and principles that keep those strange aluminum-and-composite contraptions in the air... and allow them to soar magnificently through it.

Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you through the Aero-News Network. Suggestions for future Aero-Tips are always welcome, as are additions or discussion of each day's tips. Remember... when it comes to being better pilots, we're all in this together.

Aero-Tips 05.07.06

Your airplane is in the shop. Under what circumstances can an airplane be flown for maintenance? There are three separate but dependent questions to answer:

Is it Legal?

For a flight to be "legal" under the Federal Air Regulations the airplane has to be either:

  1. "airworthy" in terms of the FARs (note: the term airworthy is not defined in the Code of Federal Regulations), or
  2. operated under an FAA-approved Special Flight Authorization (often called a Ferry Permit).

There is no exemption for an airplane to be flown with discrepancies that render it unairworthy (example: flight with a balky fuel pump even if an auxiliary pump provides full power), for flight with a modification before it is fully installed, FAA-approved and endorsed in the logbook (example: test flight of an engine modification before the logbook is signed with a return-to-service) or when the airplane is out of annual (example: a short hop to warm up the engine for an annual inspection compression test after the airplane’s current annual has expired) just because the flight is being done as part of the repair, modification or inspection. Any of these examples might be approved under a signed ferry permit with appropriate logbook entries, but in any other case the airplane is not legal to fly.

Is it Insurable?

Having insurance in effect (yours or the shop’s) during the maintenance flight may be important to you. Insurability hinges on three things:

  1. Is the airplane "airworthy", or operating under a ferry permit with prior insurance company approval?
  2. Does the pilot meet the experience requirements of the policy’s Open Pilot Warranty or is otherwise personally named to the policy as a pilot accepted by the insurance company? (Note: Many policies cover flight by a shop pilot employed by a Federally certified repair station -- beware, most maintenance facilities are not certified repair stations. It’s also an insurance "gray area" whether a local CFI or airline pilot contracted by a shop is covered under this provision -- ask your insurance carrier for their interpretation in writing).
  3. Are all other requirements of the policy met? This means actually reading the insurance policy.

It takes a "yes" to all three for the airplane to be insured for the maintenance flight.

What’s Safe?

After asking if it’s legal and insurable, ask if it’s safe. Do you really need to flight-test with a bad magneto, or can you rule out failure modes on the test bench first? Is it a good idea to conduct maintenance flights at night, in bad weather or with strong, gusty winds? Is the pilot not only legal and insurable, but truly competent to fly the make and model airplane, or operate its avionics?

Aero-tip of the day: Talk to your mechanic about maintenance flights before leaving your airplane in the shop. Be certain the flight meets the standards of being legal, insurable and safe before authorizing the shop to fly your airplane.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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