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BOARDROOM GUIDE - TAKING FLIGHT AGAIN

Flight hours have been down all over the world with the recent economic recession, and some owners have opted to store their aircraft as values plummeted and costs soared over the last year and a half. Thankfully, it appears that aviation is experiencing a slight increase in flying and corporate managers and owners are again attending events like EBACE to find ways to operate more efficiently.

AvBuyer   |   8th January 2010
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Storing Your Aircraft:
Some of the hidden maintenance costs to getting you back in the air!


Flight hours have been down all over the world with the recent economic recession, and some owners have opted to store their aircraft as values plummeted and costs soared over the last year and a half. Thankfully, it appears that aviation is experiencing a slight increase in flying and corporate managers and owners are again attending events like EBACE to find ways to operate more efficiently.

Some aircraft that have been sitting are being moved out of storage and the same question keeps coming up: “How can we have all these maintenance costs if we haven’t been flying the aircraft?”

That question has been asked so many times over a Maintenance Manager’s career that it should be depicted in a cartoon hanging over their office door. Maintenance managers have to explain the answer to this question to the first officer in the hangar, to the Chief Pilot in the Operations Department and to the Accountant in the company’s corporate offices.

One of the expenditures that never seem to be in large print in the aircraft sales brochure is that there are Calendar Inspections that must be performed. When you are looking at an aircraft to buy, the seller will tell you that it will cost ‘W-amount’-per-hour for crew, ‘X’-per-hour for fuel, ‘Y’- per-hour for maintenance and reserves, and ‘Z’ for the crystal goblets, china plates and chocolate truffles. (The A, B, C, and D Calendar Inspections are only mentioned just before the pictures of the pretty new paint scheme and interior are placed before you.)

There are plenty of maintenance tasks needing to be done when an aircraft has been parked for a while.

The first things that always seem to come up are those little monthly items like the fire extinguisher or navigation database updates; then we have to look at the six-month batteries that make the signs that point to the EXIT light up when there is no aircraft power. Of course some aircraft have main battery checks due, and emergency bottle pressures to be checked and serviced. Next you have the 12-month inspections which requires just about everything above the skin and everything below panels with fewer than 20 screws to be inspected.

If you performed certain inspections just before the downturn started in September 2008, the above inspections should bring you up to a current status. But, if you are part of the majority of aircraft owners, you now are coming due for the 24-month inspection, or the 48-month - perhaps even some other multiple 12-month airframe inspections. Do not forget that as you perform these airframe inspections, you have to look for any of the components that have calendar limitations.

Some of these are the oxygen bottles, the life rafts and the fire extinguisher squibs. The engines also have calendar requirements, and most engine models require preservation of the engine. Preservation ranges from performing a motoring of the engine every month, up to pumping oil through the fuel system, blocking every opening to prevent entry of dirt and throwing desiccator packages around to suck up any water that may get into the engine.

Failing to perform the required preservation and recording the preservation maintenance each time it is performed may cause your engine to not meet the requirements of the maintenance manual. If this occurs, a simple Borescope may be required - or perhaps a more costly inspection requiring the engine to be torn down completely to determine whether it is serviceable.

A few engines have what is called a low utilization inspection required while others have 10-year inspection and 20-year overhaul inspections that have to be performed. Tough decisions must be made when a calendar overhaul inspection comes due on an older aircraft that has significantly depreciated in value. At time of overhaul, the determination to be made is not the extent of the maintenance to be performed, but whether the value of the aircraft supports doing the maintenance at all!

After all the above inspections are determined to be due or not, the maintenance crew will move on to bringing the aircraft back to its former glory. They will start out by charging batteries, putting air in the tires that do not need to be replaced and then starting and checking the engines’ performance.

The different pumps, servos, actuators and accumulators will be checked for operation. Are there indications of any hydraulic, fuel, oil, air or lavatory fluid leaks? When you turn on the electrical systems, do all of the nice twinkling lights glow, do the power supplies and rectifiers still function, and do the DVD players and coffee pot work? Have you checked all of the computers, screens, gauges, radios, navigation systems and the Master Warning Panel for operation? If yes, then you are ready for a test flight.

Within this article I have offered no references to any regulations, and I do not quote any maintenance manuals. You will have to look in your own country’s regulations and aircraft maintenance manuals to determine what is required and necessary to provide your company with a reliable and safe aircraft. These costs will vary based upon the maintenance quality and quantity performed just prior to the storage, the preservation maintenance performed while the aircraft is stored, the type and location of the storage facility, and the maintenance coverage program you may have that could save you a significant amount of money in the long run.

No matter how you look at it, making your aircraft airworthy again once it has been stored can be costly - but with the global economy on the rebound we all look forward to more of these stored planes getting back in the air!

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