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Aftermath: Post-Annual Inspection (Part 1)

The annual is done, repairs are complete, the modification is installed ... whatever the reason your airplane was in the shop, it’s all buttoned up now, and ready to fly -- or is it?

The annual is done, repairs are complete, the modification is installed ... whatever the reason your airplane was in the shop, it’s all buttoned up now, and ready to fly -- or is it?

PROBLEM: Any time an airplane has been opened up for inspection, maintenance or repair, the possibility exists that in the process of making all the wrong things right, some right things were made wrong. Translation: There may be a few things out of place. Disclaimer: Mechanics and inspectors are professionals, and I don’t mean to doubt their professionalism, but they are people too and sometimes people make mistakes.

Notes From The Real World...
I’ve picked up airplanes from very reputable shops -- and even accepted new aircraft from the factory -- only to discover an oversight that affects the safety of flight. Returning an airplane to service is a team effort, and as pilots we need to accept at least some of the responsibility to determine an airplane is ready to fly when it comes out of the shop.

Self-Defense (Step 1): PAPERWORK

  • ARROW--Airworthiness Certificate, Registration, Radio Station License (only if a U.S.-registered airplane is to be flown outside the United States), Operating Limitations, and Weight and Balance/Equipment List. All these things need to be in a U.S.-registered airplane.
  • Logbook Entry--The airplane logs need to have a signed statement listing all the work that was done, engine items in the engine log(s) and everything else in the airframe log. Even if the logbooks won’t be carried in the airplane (not required in the U.S.), the pilot is still responsible if he/she flies the airplane without the proper endorsements.
  • Yellow tags, Form 337 (Alterations paperwork), and all Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) paperwork must be in the logbooks.
  • Return to Service statement--Similarly, a signed logbook entry stating that the airplane is airworthy and returned to service must appear in the books.
Self-Defense (Step 2): AIRWORTHINESS CHECK
  • Safety wiring -- Check that all is reinstalled properly. Complete familiarity with your airplane’s engine compartment and interior is a big help here -- if you’re not all that familiar, bring a friend who is.
  • Access panels -- Check all the nuts and bolts for security, paying special attention to anything else that was likely moved or removed in the shop.
  • Fluids -- Check them and look for stains. There shouldn’t be any leaks of fuel or oil, so bring any drips or puddles to your mechanic’s attention and get an explanation.
  • Fit and finish -- The ergonomics pre-flight. Check the cabin. The seats were probably removed, be sure they move correctly and lock in position. Make sure that items like manual landing gear extension handles aren’t obstructed by improperly re-installed interiors.
Inside Information: Gear extension obstruction is a common problem in post-maintenance Beechcraft airplanes.

BOTTOM LINE: Make your post-annual pre-flight one of the most detailed inspections of your life -- because it’s the only independent “quality control” your airplane will get before you take to the sky and the only reason you should consider your airplane “safe.”

Next week, we’ll take a look at your other post-annual duties -- as test pilot...

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About This Author:
Tom Turner is a widely published author and regular forum speaker at EAA's Oshkosh/Airventure and American Bonanza Society. Tom holds an M.S. in Aviation Safety with an emphasis on pilot training methods and human factors. He has worked as lead instructor at FlightSafety International, developed and conducted flight test profiles for modified aircraft and authored three books including: Cockpit Resource Management: The Private Pilot's Guide and Instrument Flying Handbook (both from McGraw-Hill). His flight experience currently spans 3000 hours with approximately 1800 logged as an instructor. Tom's certificate currently shows ATP MEL with Commercial/Instrument privileges in SEL airplanes.
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