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Performing Your ELSA Condition Inspection

So you have earned your light sport inspection repairman certificate and a year has pasted since your aircraft was certified - now it’s time to perform your first condition inspection. Those of us who instruct the 16 hour Repairman Inspection Course would like to believe that you remember and retained everything you learned during those 16 hours, but just in case let’s review. (If you have not yet taken LSA Repairman course- this will be a great preview.)

One of the things we often forget is that the condition inspection is more than just this regulatory process we have to go through. Over the years, when performing condition inspection, we will consistently run across something that causes the “Oh, my god- it is a good thing we caught this” response. Recently, for example, we had an aircraft flown in for an inspection directly from the paint shop. During the inspection we discovered the wing bolts were installed into the holes but the nuts were barely turn on and had never been tightened up. Discovering a discrepancy like this is certainly enough to get your attention. So while the inspection is required, more importantly, it is an opportunity to get in there and really look at the aircraft in depth – a process that may even save you life.

The first step, of course, is to make certain you are authorized to perform the inspection. If you have successfully completed the 16 hour Repairman Inspection course and your aircraft N number and serial number are listed on the back of your repairman certificate then you are authorized. This inspection cannot be delegated to another person, you can not supervise another person as they perform the inspection- you must complete it yourself. If you have not yet taken the Repairman Inspection course you can have a Repairman with a Maintenance rating or an Airframe and Powerplant mechanic complete your first inspection and you can plan to attend the course before your next inspection is due.

Before you begin the actual inspection, plan ahead and get organized. Remember, the use of a checklist is mandatory. You may use the checklist in 14 CFR part 43 (appendix D), or a checklist designed by the holder of a repairman certificate, that includes the scope and detail of the items listed in appendix D, to check the condition of the entire aircraft. This includes checks of the various systems listed in 14 CFR part 43, section 43.15. Developing your own checklist allows you to address items specific to your aircraft. Note that 14 CFR part 43 (appendix D) is a minimum. You will want to use this document as a starting point and expand your checklist to cover your specific engine, propeller, airframe and components. You may even want to add consumables to it, items you will need to have on hand, such as oil, fuel strainers, and the like.

Next, collect and review all of the required resources. First and foremost, the procedures and scope for annual inspections for your ELSA aircraft are set forth in 14 CFR part 43, appendix D, and should be followed in detail. Second, you will need the engine, aircraft and propeller manuals, as well as any manuals for avionics or components. There are additional requirements for annual inspections listed in 14 CFR part 43, section 43.15 so you should also read this section of the regulations.

Since you are required to determine that the required placards and documents are available and current, this is a good place to begin the inspection. Missing, incorrect, or improperly located placards are regarded as an unsafe item. Under the requirements of 14 CFR part 91, section 91.9, the aircraft may not be operated until they are available. Required aircraft identification markings are discussed in 14 CFR part 45. It is also the owner’s or operator’s responsibility to have the nationality and registration markings properly displayed on the aircraft (14 CFR part 91, section 91.9(c)).

It is imperative that weight and balance (weight and loading for weight shift and powered parachute) checks and computations be made very carefully. Since practically every aircraft manufacturer uses a different method of weight and balance control, it would be impossible to provide a universally adaptable method. When revising weight and balance data, these general guidelines should be followed.

  1. The weight and balance data should be kept together in the aircraft records.
  2. When making revisions, use a permanent easily identified method, with full-size sheets of paper large enough to contain complete computations and minimize the possibility of becoming detached or lost.
  3. Each page should be identified with the aircraft by make, model, serial number, and registration number.
  4. The pages should be signed and dated by the person making the revision.
  5. The nature of the weight change should be described.
  6. The old weight and balance data should be marked “superseded” and dated.
  7. A new page should show the date of the old figures it supersedes.
  8. Appropriate fore and/or aft extreme loading conditions should be investigated and the computations shown.
  9. Example loading computations may be helpful.
  10. On small aircraft, it is often convenient to post a placard in the aircraft indicating the empty weight, useful load, and empty CG, along with example loadings or general instructions, to cover the most likely loading conditions. (Refer to 14 CFR section 91.9(b)(2).) AC 120-27, Aircraft Weight and Balance Control, and FAA-H-8083-1, Aircraft Weight and Balance Handbook contain useful information.

The inspection itself is essentially a visual evaluation of the condition of the aircraft and its components and certain operational checks. The manufacturer may recommend certain services to be performed at various operating intervals. These can often be done conveniently during an annual inspection, and in fact should be done, but are not considered to be a part of the inspection itself. We highly recommend that you complete the entire inspection before addressing any discrepancy or service items. This will ensure a systematic inspection. As an owner/ operator you are in an optimum position to take your time and do the inspection right –you can’t afford to do it otherwise.

Either before or after the visual inspection you will need to research all service bulletins issue on the aircraft, engine, propeller or component such as instruments. It is very important that you be familiar with the manufacturer’s service manuals, bulletins, and letters for the product being inspected. Use these publications to avoid overlooking problem areas.

If your aircraft is equipped with an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), you should inspect it during your condition inspection. ELTs must be inspected every 12 months in accordance with 14 CFR part 91.207, it make sense to do this during the yearly condition inspection. 14 CFR section 91.413 requires that before a transponder can be used under 14 CFR section 91.215(a), it shall be tested and inspected within the preceding 24 calendar months. Therefore, we recommend that if you have a transponder you verify the last date of inspection.

Finally, the inspection is not over until the holder of a repairman certificate records the inspection in accordance with the requirements of 14 CFR part 43, sections 43.9 and 43.11. Further, the owner or operator is required by 14 CFR part 91.417 to keep maintenance records.

And the benefits? First, clear and complete records will protect your aircraft’s value. Fact: your aircraft’s log books represent up to 20% of the value of your airplane. Second, they will save you time and money later. Additionally, record entries are very important as they are the only evidence an aircraft owner has to show compliance with the inspection requirements of 14 CFR part 91, section 91.409. The holder of a repairman certificate is also required to indicate the total aircraft time in service when a required inspection is done. Once the entries are made- you can begin enjoying the benefits. Not only is your aircraft legal for another year, but you and your aircraft will be happier and safer.

Light Aviation Edition August 2008

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