Parts is Parts. . . Again!
Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an Airframe and Powerplant certificate and is an ATP rated pilot. He worked with Western Airlines and the Allison Division of GMC in Latin America, servicing commercial and military overhaul activities and is a USAF veteran. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Piper ran into power lines in the vicinity of a high desert airport in California. When the pilot took off with his two passengers and baggage, the ambient temperature was over 100 degrees F and the airport elevation was 3,400 feet. This was a guaranteed prescription for tragedy. The airplane refused to climb at a rate sufficient to clear power lines that border the airport. Three people died.
This accident generated three years worth of litigation, which continues to this day. Here is a list of the litigants: 1) The heirs of the passengers and the pilot; 2) The Gas Company; 3) The Electric Company; 4) The company who last performed an annual inspection on the airplane; 5) A company that worked on the airplane previous to the annual; 6) Three insurance companies; 7) A parts repair shop; 8) The airplane manufacturer; 9) The engine manufacturer; and any number of additional unknowns to be added when they are found.
The accident clearly resulted from the pilot's negligent operation of the aircraft beyond its design and performance limits. Nothing new about this. The case should end with the pilot's insurance company paying the heirs of the deceased passengers, which they of course, did."The best advice that technicians and shops can give their customers is to forget about any shortcuts or bargain repairs. If they can't afford to fix it right, then don't."
But, now they must search for others responsible in an attempt to recoup their payout. For example, they would maintain that there should have been visibility balls on the wires to make them more visible. The supporting structures were sitting right there for all to see. But, the argument goes that they were positioned in a negligent location —of course. That should be it. But noÉ the shotgun blast of the lawyers must go on and on.
On examination of the engine, it was noticed that the exhaust system and the muffler were crushed by the force of the crash. This particular exhaust muffler happened to have been repaired by a local welding shop to take care of some cracks and loose baffles. All of the evidence supports the fact that there was nothing defective in the performance of the muffler. Nonetheless, much was made of the fact that the muffler could have restricted the exhaust flow and hence, the power from the engine, and thus, contribute to the accident. Quite a stretch. But it gets more interesting than this and here is the meat of the matter for all you technicians and shops out there.
The shop that repaired the muffler was not a repair station nor was it repaired by a certificated A&P mechanic. This is a common occurrence. It simply was repaired by a welding shop that had done many of these types of repairs before. The muffler was sent out for repair and re-installed by a repair station that determined the repair was airworthy. The repair station stood behind the repaired muffler and of course, the airworthiness of the installation. Much has been made in the past of the fact that this part is not a new part, and maybe not even a "remanufactured part," but simply a "repaired" part that is inspected and installed in accord with the repair station's authority for return to service. The issue remains however, whether the part is remanufactured or simply repaired.
My father was a big man, straight from the old sod. He was a lot smarter than I and a card-carrying survivor of the depression years.
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