Which maintenance shop should you choose? How can you work well with them? Dave Higdon offers some tips and strategies to help ensure you get the most out of your aircraft’s downtime…
You may have thought you faced a lot of options when you shopped for (and bought) your latest aircraft. Now that it's yours, however, the plethora of major decisions to be made continues as the aircraft approaches the biggest of all cyclical events in aviation.
But those decisions can be a lot easier if you are proactive in working with your selected maintenance shop.
Regardless of the aircraft type, make or model, if the company jet or turboprop flies on an airworthiness certificate the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) outline a periodic-inspection regimen that operators must follow.
They differ only by the type of use the aircraft flies (something to consider for operators contemplating letting the company plane fly Part 135 to generate Charter revenue that partially offsets the cost of ownership.
Aircraft operated solely under private FAR Part 91 operations face a simple annual-inspection requirement. Under FAR 91.409(a), an aircraft must undergo an annual inspection every 12 calendar months to be legal to operate.
(For an annual inspection, the period of 12 calendar months extends from any day of any month to the last day of the same month in the following year, giving an operator the latitude and essentially making the annual cycle 13 months long if that better suits the operator.)
However, if the aircraft operates under for-hire use (even part time), 100-hour inspections are added to the regimen required by the FARs, moving the aircraft into a deeper inspection routine.
Such aircraft also must undergo either an annual or 100-hour inspection within the preceding 100 hours of time in service. So if the aircraft flies 150 hours a year, a 100-hour and an annual are both on the cards. If it flies 210 hours in a year, a second 100-hour may be warranted. And 500 hours a year would necessitate four 100-hour and one annual inspection.
It's also important to note that an annual inspection can fulfill the 100-hour inspection requirement, but a 100-hour inspection cannot substitute for an annual, because the inspection coverage mandated for the 100-hour inspections doesn't come up to the level of the annual, which requires delving deeper into the airframe, powerplants and systems.
With those differences outlined, the aircraft operator will not only need to select a good maintenance home for their aircraft but know how to get the best results out of their shop visit. But what should one look for when shopping around for the ideal maintenance partner, and once selected, what can be done to ensure a smooth working relationship?
The following tips should help…
You wouldn't take a BMW to a Chevy dealer for upkeep, or vice-versa. Neither should you take your business aircraft, a highly sophisticated and complex machine, to a center that doesn’t specialize in your aircraft type. Your business aircraft deserves hands and minds that are trained in the type and, ideally, the specific model.
Many maintenance shops handle the upkeep of several makes – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But you need to know whether the shop has invested in training its staff on your aircraft type. To this end, work with a factory or factory-certified maintenance shop to get recommendations for the area where you base your aircraft.
Many maintenance shops for smaller aircraft may lack certification as an FAA-approved repair station. Thus, in addition to being trained to work on your make/model aircraft, you should also require a prospective shop to exhibit its repair-station licenses.
Maintenance needs will inevitably arise. Unfortunately, you can't live without them and it's not legal to ignore them.
Show some foresight by not only establishing your maintenance provider but working with them months ahead of a scheduled inspection and/or other recurrent maintenance need.
This is the only way to avoid the unhappy surprise of finding your aircraft grounded, pending an inspection sign-off or other required work. Waiting until the last minute to drop the airplane off for required work is a sure way to incur higher costs and possible delays.
4. List of Needs
Flight crew, cabin crew and company personnel should contribute to a list detailing maintenance needs before the time comes to deliver the aircraft to the shop. Having established your maintenance partner, work with them far enough in advance for parts to be ordered, again saving time and money.
5. Work List
After consultation with your preferred maintenance provider, ahead of the start date they should provide you with a written estimate detailing part costs, labor rates, a labor estimate, warranty details on new or replacement parts, and details on how payments will be made.
If you have selected a good maintenance provider for your aircraft’s needs, there should be no unpleasant surprises relating to costs and downtime.
6. Flexibility and Proactivity
How flexible is your maintenance shop? In an ideal world, you could plan a work sheet that outlines what, if any, additional work the aircraft needs during its scheduled shop visit.
Making time for any planned avionics upgrades (for example) is a wise way to squeeze the most benefit out of a shop visit.
So, assuming your own requirements are reasonable, how proactive and flexible is the shop to fulfil these aims?
7. Software Updates
In today's modern glass cockpit, software drives so much – so software updates long-ago became a fact of life. Because of differing cycles, schedules and suppliers, pin-down, in writing, how your maintenance provider will handle (or not handle) avionics systems software updates.
8. Managing Priorities
Some maintenance needs may be actions you can defer, while others are crying out for your attention yesterday. To avoid a snowball effect of unanticipated maintenance expenses, work with your aircraft's maintenance home to identify items you can delay.
You may be able to defer low-priority and low-complexity needs until a subsequent 100-hour or annual inspection, reducing downtime and lowering the immediate bill.
9. Thinking Long-Term
Since periodic inspections and unplanned maintenance events typically send the maintenance chief digging into the aircraft and engine logs, every maintenance event is an opportunity to look ahead as well as to the past.
Looking into the past will help assure everyone that everything is up-to-date and legal. Looking into the past also helps the maintenance folks look forward for recurrent maintenance needs and other periodic requirements, and schedule them for future attention.
10. Preparing to Repeat
The end of this year's annual, or the next 100-hour inspection provides a perfect milepost for planning future work, such as reupholstering, repainting or re-plating – or indeed, for the ADS-B mandate that is fast approaching…