Sometimes we have to step back and take a look at the regulations that govern our work as certificated mechanics and see where we stand and how we think about the rules while we are working.
Subjects like approved for return to service, major or minor repair or alteration, experience requirements for mechanics, progressive inspection, checklist, approved maintenance manual, airworthy, inspection authority limits, work orders, ADs...these and many other less prominent items routinely come up during conversation with groups of mechanics and are fertile areas for disputes.
The Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) that we mechanics frequently refer to are located in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations at Part 43. These rules simply set forth the basic standards for general maintenance, and preventive maintenance, rebuilding and altering aircraft and their subparts and accessories.
Part 65, Subparts D and E, are the requirements for certification of mechanics and repairmen.
Part 91 Subpart C sets out aircraft owners' responsibilities for maintenance of the aircraft and any preventive maintenance or alterations. Some of the Part 91 sections contain similar record-keeping requirements as are found in Part 43.
If you are going to get in trouble it will be involved with the performance rules of maintenance, preventive maintenance, or alterations (Part 43.13). In addition, there are other rules for inspections contained in Part 43.15.
Work orders are not required by the FAR, however, contract law applies in these situations and all of your maintenance agreements should be in writing and signed by the customer. The order should clearly spell out the scope of the work to be performed. Certain boiler-plate disclaimers should be preprinted on the form to limit your liability in case of the failure of parts supplied. Forms should be reviewed by counsel to assure that they comply with this important area.
Everybody in this business should know by now that we are a nation of whiners and you can be sued for just about anything. The airplane maintenance business is no exception. If the person suing you (or the FAA) can prove that you violated one of the FARs in performing maintenance on an aircraft their job is easier. Violation of a FAR will generally find you negligent as a matter of law in any lawsuit. Negligence is simply defined as the failure to use due care or reasonable care in the performance of your work. Keep in mind however that even though you do follow the FARs it does not necessarily mean that you used due care for the job. Your duty of care in performance of the work is often measured by the requirements of the FARs.
Case in point
Here's an example. Recently I had a call from a mechanic who said a lawyer for an insurance company was threatening him to collect what they paid out for the repair of an aircraft that had made a gear up landing. He said that the mechanic had performed an annual inspection a month before the accident. There were no injuries, only property damage. On examination of the aircraft it was alleged that the left main wheel had come off the axle because the cotter pin securing the nut was missing from the wheel nut. The nut and the cotter pin were not found. Ten hours of flight time and a little over a month had passed since the annual inspection. They said that the pin on the right hand wheel nut was missing but the nut was still in place.
The FAA had investigated this accident and spoke with the mechanic and the owner about the details. The mechanic maintained that it would have been impossible for him to have missed the cotter pins during his inspection. He maintained that someone else must have been involved. Note the problem here. The FAA would have some difficulty in placing the blame on the mechanic because of the passage of time since the annual was performed. As one authority has frequently stated...your liability for an annual inspection ends when the ink dries on the paperwork.
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