Are you looking for some practical insights on business aircraft pre-purchase inspections? Andre Fodor, aviation director, Johnsonville, offers his three top tips for getting the best out of the process…
Sitting at the doctor’s office, the flu-like symptoms had resulted from a lowered immune system that had broken down during the delivery of a brand-new business jet. It all started in early October when the principal told me he’d decided to upgrade the company aircraft and purchase his dream Ultra-Long-Range Jet. Not only that, he wanted the transaction done before the end of the year for tax purposes.
Usually, the prospect of another project dealing with a zero-time aircraft, choosing every detail would be very exciting to me. But I was about to embark on a trip to Israel that I couldn’t reassign. I was pressed for time, with the added pressure of deadline anxiety.
The conversation with the doctor was straightforward. “I can’t be sick right now – I need to perform.” With a heavy dose of antibiotics running through my body, I travelled to the delivery center to begin the acceptance inspection of the new aircraft.
Over the course of my career there have been too many occurrences of tight deadlines surrounding aircraft inspections.
Yet the acceptance inspection is a critical opportunity to identify problems. It’s at risk of becoming a wasted opportunity if it’s muddled by timing issues.
The pre-delivery/pre-purchase inspection is essential because it’s the right time to carefully inspect and investigate flaws, manufacturing blemishes, paint mishaps or penmanship slips in the aircraft’s logbooks.
That is why it’s better to not schedule one against other deadlines driven by the end of a tax cycle, or merely the hunger of an OEM to close a deal in the current fiscal year. To approach the pre-delivery/pre-purchase inspection with the necessary care, it’s important to develop a plan to get the process done within your time frame.
You probably have a strong support network, and the pre-purchase inspection is a critical time to start delegating and trusting them. Following are some key items in the pre-delivery/pre-purchase inspection that may affect an aircraft.
1) Inspect the Logbooks
When facing a pre-purchase inspection, the first thing that comes to mind should be the physical inspection of the aircraft’s logbooks. These can be great storytellers. A thorough inspection of all documentation will give a very good indication of the quality of the aircraft you’re about to accept.
When dealing with a new aircraft, the logbooks will tell you about the build process and if there were mishaps or repairs that happened during the manufacturing process.
For pre-owned airplanes, they’ll tell you much more, including who were the many hands that touched the airplane during its life of maintenance, and how reliable the aircraft has been (including whether any systems have been consistently problematic).
A clean, well-organized logbook reflects how the operator has cared for the aircraft. Consider it the ultimate certificate of pedigree.
Beyond what’s in the logbooks, an astute inspector will also notice what is not in the records. As an example, has any preventive maintenance been undertaken to pre-empt and control corrosion? Were optional service bulletins followed to keep the airplane at its optimal level?
2) Hire the Right Team
While certainly not an expert in every aircraft that I buy, through many years of involvement in aircraft acquisitions I have a good idea of what to look for.
I will still always engage the most knowledgeable people to my delivery team, though. These individuals will be able to identify any idiosyncrasies of a particular aircraft platform.
When inspecting a pre-owned aircraft, your inspector may also find items that meet the airworthiness requirements, but not the expectations of the buyer (for example, the condition of tires or brakes).
These items may then be open to negotiation with the seller. But be sensitive to the fact that sellers may not want to fix items that are already airworthy.
For a new aircraft, it is a reasonable expectation that every component is in optimal condition.
When accepting delivery of a $60m airplane, if the manufacturer tries to insist you accept a hydraulic actuator with leakage “because it was within drip limits, and the airplane would be under warranty anyway”, you’d have a legitimate reason to refuse to accept anything less than a zero-time replacement part.
You may, however, find a suitable compromise in accepting repair after delivery.
3) Inspect the Fit, Finish and Paintwork
One of the most critical inspection items for both new and used aircraft is fit, finish and paint. That’s the first thing that your principal will see, and it needs to be perfect.
An internal inspection should be done in a ‘climatized’ setting. Arrange for air conditioning, plenty of light, and ensure that you bring a wide beam flashlight. Identify all imperfections with sticky tape with a sequential number on it. This should correlate to a list which you will build as you inspect the interior.
The same applies to the exterior. When inspecting paintwork, it’s preferable to view the aircraft outside the hangar with the benefit of natural light (ideally early day sunlight).
First, accomplish a tactile inspection of all surfaces, especially if the aircraft had just been painted. Check the smoothness and look for imperfections. Give special attention to the joint fillers. You’ll also want to visually check the quality of painting, polishing and blending.
Look carefully around the windows where paint peeling is especially prone to occurring. As with the interior, start a sequential list but instead of sticky tape use a grease pencil to circle the areas of concern.
Diligence, attention to detail and planned processes will ensure a successful inspection. New or pre-owned aircraft will always have discrepancies.
Remember the common goal: The seller wants to deliver and sell the airplane, and you want to buy it. There’s likely to be some give and take from both parties. Keep that in mind in your actions and attitude, and you’ll emerge with an amazing aircraft joining your Flight Department.