U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074


June 1999 





Thought for the month.... See all sides of everything before being sure of anything.

BREAKING THE AIRWORTHINESS CODE.... Aircraft airworthiness may be the least understood element affecting safe and legal operations. At some time in our aviation education we learned that the aircraft has an airworthiness certificate and that it, along with RROW, must be on board when we fly. We also learned where a record of the annual and 100-hour inspections were hidden in the maintenance records of the trainer we used for the checkride. For some, that was the last time we ever looked at a maintenance record.

"The aircraft owner is responsible for the maintenance." Thatís a true statement. The aircraft owner is responsible for a number of items, including:

Many owners believe that if they hire a qualified mechanic, or have their aircraft maintained by a maintenance facility, that they are relieved of the responsibility of keeping the aircraft in an airworthy condition. A good shop or mechanic will do that, but it still remains the ownerís responsibility to ensure that any work has been completed and entered into the maintenance record for the aircraft and that all applicable ADs have been complied with.

Those of us who rent aircraft might assume that our responsibility is only limited to verifying that it is safe for flight by conducting a good preflight inspection. The key to understanding why that isnít totally correct begins with the word "operate" as defined in Part 1 of the FARs. "Operate", with respect to aircraft, means use, cause to use or authorize to use aircraft for the purpose of air navigation including the piloting of aircraft, with or without the right of legal control. That definition spreads the responsibility around to the owner, the FBO or business, and the pilot, so we all share a responsibility for the airworthiness of an aircraft.

FAR 91.7 CIVIL AIRCRAFT AIRWORTHINESS, places two requirements on people who "operate" aircraft. They are: (a) No person may operate a civil aircraft unless it is in an airworthy condition; and: (b) The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight. The PIC shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur. "Airworthy" and "flyable" are not the same thing. The old joke that, "It flew in so itíll fly out", doesnít necessarily mean that itíll fly out legally. An aircraft could be absolutely safe, but totally unairworthy because required inspections have not been complied with or required paperwork is not on board. If a business rents me an unairworthy aircraft and I elect to fly it, we are both operators and we share the responsibility.

Subpart C of Part 91 is the section of the regulations that deals with certificates, equipment and inspections. 91.203 is the source of the A and R of ARROW. It tells us that a certificated aircraft must have an airworthiness and registration certificate, and it also alludes to the fact that the airworthiness certificate must be "on top". It must be the one that is visible. 91.205 lists the equipment requirements for day, night and IFR and some people believe that as long as the equipment required for the condition of flight is operational, then the aircraft is "airworthy". Thatís not necessarily correct.

Technically speaking, the aircraft must conform to itís type certificate (TC) data sheet, and everything on the aircraft must work. Under certain conditions however, an aircraft may be flown with inoperative equipment but it is not automatic. Even if an approved minimum equipment list (MEL) exists for the aircraft, the discrepancy must be recorded and the MEL reference cited. If the FAA has not approved an MEL for that specific aircraft, then a different decision chain is necessary. If, for example, an attitude indicator is installed but not working, 91.205 tells us that it is not a required piece of equipment for VFR flight. The next reference is 91.213(d) which provides us with guidance on removing or deactivating the instrument, entering the information in the aircraft records, placarding the AI and restricting the flying to VFR conditions.

Whoís going to know? It would certainly take some level of clairvoyance to be able to detect inoperable equipment simply by looking at the aircraft. Some would argue that it is not realistic to expect everything to work all the time and if nobody knows and no one gets hurt, whatís the problem? Unfortunately, it can become easier and easier to overlook inoperable equipment for just those reasons. It doesnít take long for things to pile up. One or two problems can become five or six. Even though we know that itís not going to get through the annual in that condition, itís somehow easier to justify putting off minor repairs until then. As long as nothing else happens, that strategy might be successful, but if the aircraft becomes the subject of an investigation for some reason, all those technical violations can come crashing down around us.

To sum all this up, the regulations hold those individuals who operate certificated aircraft responsible for ensuring that the aircraft are legal and safe for flight. These responsibilities are shared between the owner, the operator, the pilot and the maintenance technician or facility performing maintenance on the aircraft. Regardless of whether we own the aircraft or rent the aircraft, as PIC we assume a responsibility for airworthiness.

The responsibilities for aircraft airworthiness are often difficult to fully understand. The rules are not grouped together but are scattered about in several regulations. All of us, who operate or cause an aircraft to be operated, share a responsibility for airworthiness, along with those who own the aircraft or maintain it. In this respect, itís important for us to see all sides of everything before being sure of anything.

Upcoming Events:

June 5th

St. Louis Downtown Parks Airport

Users Meeting & Operations at Towered Airports. Parks College hangar #8

1 to 4 PM.

July 3rd

Poplar Bluff Airport, Poplar Bluff, MO

Flight Discipline


Safety Program Manager

1-800-322-8876 x 4835


May Day