Aircraft mechanics are being asked to do work that in flusher times may have been sent to specialty shops. With high fuel and maintenance costs, owners — even corporate owners — are looking to save money where they can. Interior refurbishment is one of those areas that to save money, aircraft owners may ask you to take it on. So instead of redoing an entire interior, an owner may ask for just one or two seats to be replaced.
While any licensed mechanic knows the critical nature of, for example, flight control systems, some tend to be more complacent when it comes to cabin repair or replacement issues. But cabin interior maintenance can be just as critical to safety as flight controls; a seat that lets go under rapid deceleration after an aborted takeoff can injure or kill its occupant just as surely as an engine failure from improper maintenance. So, mechanics taking on these assignments need to beware of common pitfalls.
One area that continues to be a problem is unapproved parts. While the FAA has spent considerable effort in eliminating these parts for 121 and 135 operators, much less effort has been spent educating GA and corporate aircraft mechanics on what to look for in assessing whether a part is appropriate for use in an aircraft, especially that particular aircraft. Unapproved parts are not just poorly made, counterfeit parts. An unapproved part is also any part not specifically approved for aviation uses or, most specifically, for use in the aircraft you are maintaining.
Remember, too, that an unapproved part can be a perfectly good part in another context and not approved for aviation uses. So marine and auto parts that are perfectly manufactured for their intended uses in cars or boats, would be completely unacceptable for use in aircraft. Sounds elementary, but it is amazing how many mechanics seem to forget that when they are rushing to complete a job. So something as deceptively simple as marine fabric used to repair seats or carpeting may not meet aircraft flammability standards.
Be aware also that a part approved for another model of the aircraft you are refurbishing — or a newer version of the same model — may not be approved for retrofits. The problem frequently comes up when a mechanic is supplied parts by an owner. For example, an owner sees a newer version of a seat installed in the aircraft, buys the seat and asks you to install it. The seat is from all appearances the same size and dimensions and fits perfectly. But it’s still incumbent upon you as the mechanic to determine that that specific seat was approved for the specific aircraft in which you intend to install it. Just because it fits, does not mean it’s legal or safe to install.
Being a mechanic means paying attention to all these details, big and small. And learning to withstand the pressure from owners at times to do what is expedient but not necessarily safe or legal. After all, it is the mechanic’s license that is on the line not the owner’s.