U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

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


May 2000 




Thought for the month......Good maintenance has never been cheap, and the price isn't going down.

Growing Old Gracefully....Although new airplanes are being built, the majority of GA aircraft flying were made in the late 60's and early 70's. Of course we know that an aircraft's age has no direct bearing on how safe it is, but an older aircraft that hasn't received regular care could develop some serious problems, which could lead to safety and legal concerns. Metal parts begin to corrode virtually as soon as they are made, and the years will take their toll on even the most ruggedly built airframes.

Most light aircraft were certified under regulations that do not specify life-limited components, so in many cases we fly until something breaks. That's when we know it's worn out. No problem if we're talking about a mag compass frame, but what about a landing gear attaching bolt? A rigorous inspection may be able to detect such problems, but such an inspection would not be cheap. Making matter worse is the fact that most older aircraft maintenance manuals do not have very detailed instructions. The 100 hour/annual inspection guide for a 1958 Mooney Mark 20 is only one and a half pages long. I guess they never imagined that it would still be flying in the year 2000. An owner who is also an A&P is in the fortunate position to be able to do a lot of work on their own aircraft. Those of us, who are not mechanically inclined, must rely on the expertise and judgment of others when having work done.

Part 43 of the regulations contains a listing of preventive maintenance items that may be performed by an owner/operator, with only a pilot certificate. There are currently about 32 items, many of which still require the ability to differentiate between a 22 once framing hammer and a left handed adjustable spanner so are best left to trained mechanics. Most of the operations however, authorize disassembly and removal of nonstructural items for cleaning and inspection. Even the most mechanically challenged pilot can learn to do these things.

What takes a mechanic longer to do, disassembly and cleaning, or the actual inspection of a part? You guessed correctly. Just like painting a room, to do the job right the preparation takes 2 to 3 times longer than the actual painting. Common knowledge of human nature makes it obvious that if we ask a mechanic to inspect our nasty, dirty, greasy, bug spattered, oil stained, bird dropping, smelly carpeted, gas leaking, hydraulic coated, rust bucket, and he has to clean it first, he'll either do a poor job, or we'll pay something close to the national debt to get it done right. How about we do the preparation, and let the mechanic do what he's good at - a proper inspection.

Although a lot of the cleaning can and should be done outdoors, finding a place undercover or inside is best when removing items from the aircraft. Not everyone may realize that we have a loose cowling sitting on the ground when they swing their aircraft around and hit us with their prop wash. Gusty breezes can also catch small parts and send them bouncing down the ramp.

It's a generally accepted practice when removing inspection panels, to leave them attached to the aircraft with one screw so that the panel doesn't mysteriously disappear. Buying small parts bags also allows us to keep all the parts together at the place where they belong. Rusty screws, worn-out cotter pins, and other common hardware should be replaced with new ones. It just doesn't look right if an aircraft has just come out of an annual or 100 hour inspection, and there's a bunch of rusty hardware on it.

AVGAS may cut through the grease on the bottom of the aircraft, but it might be a better idea to check with a mechanic or the manufacturer to find a more suitable solvent. If we're in a "T" hangar, the neighbors might not appreciate the fact the we're not only creating a hazardous situation for our own aircraft and ourselves but for them as well. If we're in someone else's hangar, the owner will probably not be real happy with the practice and invite us to leave without delay. Besides, considering the cost of fuel today we should conserve as much as we can to fly on.

Cowlings can be removed and the engine compartment thoroughly cleaned. Check the maintenance records. If you can't find evidence of the tubing and hoses being replaced, now's the time. Don't go cheap here, those lines are the vessels and arteries of the aircraft engine. They may not look bad from the outside, but they deteriorate from the inside out. Even if we don't want to do the work ourselves, we can have them ordered and on hand for the mechanic.

We're authorized to take the seats out, and we can remove the carpeting and clean the cockpit area. This might be a good time to have non-structural interior components replaced. Much of this material is no longer available from the manufacturer and must be custom made. DO NO throw away old upholstery, carpeting, seats, side panels, headliners, or other interior components. Most interior shops will need them for measurements to make new replacements.

During an annual inspection, an AD search must be completed. Many shops and mechanics have computer programs that allow them to do a customized search for AD's based on the equipment and appliances installed on a specific aircraft. Done correctly once makes it a lot quicker and easier in the future.

Renting space from an FBO, inside or outside, does not give us any automatic authorization to use the facilities to do our own maintenance, or to have our own mechanic come on the property to do maintenance for us. Check with the facility owner or operator to verify what the rules are before beginning any operation. It may be necessary to temporarily relocate or make other arrangements.

Good maintenance has never been cheap, and the price isn't going down. Many owners would like to do more for themselves, but don't have confidence in their knowledge or skills. Seeing it done correctly and learning from experts can help immensely. On June 6th, the St. Louis Maintenance Safety Counselors will begin a program directed toward owner maintenance, starting with the proper procedures for changing the oil and filter. The presentation will include the correct maintenance entries and sign-offs to keep the FAA happy. It's great information even if you don't own an aircraft.

Upcoming Events

Jun. 1

Spirit of St Louis Airport
Thunder Aviation
Runway Incursions
Airport User Meeting
7pm to 9pm.

Jun. 5

Florissant Valley College Multi-purpose Room
GPS for VFR Operations
7pm to 9pm.

Jun. 6

Parks College Hangar, St. Louis Downtown Airport (CPS)
Preventive Maintenance for the Airplane Owner
7pm to 9pm.

Jun. 22

St. Louis FSDO
Working CFI Safety Seminar
8am to 3pm.


Safety Program Manager

1-800-322-8876 x 4835