There are two very important pieces of paper that are issued by the United States Government that, once issued, are usually forgotten by the aviation community. The first is a small 3 1/4 by 5 1/2 inch piece of white paper that is required by the Federal Aviation Regulations to be displayed in approximately 94 percent of United States registered aircraft. The FAA form can be found proudly attached to the inside of the cockpit door of brand new Boeing 777, or one can find it peeking out of a sun yellowed plastic display window on the back of the pilot's seat in a not so new, 1967 Cherokee PA-28-140,
The form is required to be there by FAR 91.203 (b), but using a computer search of the FAR, I could not find a single regulation that requires either a technician or a pilot to read it. So there it hangs, pinned to a wall or back of a seat, forlorn, and abandoned by people who have either forgotten or have never been told the power that lies behind the piece of paper that is just a little bit smaller than a post card.
By now you should have figured out that the first piece of paper is the Standard Airworthiness Certificate (Form 8100-2). The second piece of paper we will talk about is the Special Airworthiness Certificate (8130-7).
This certificate is one of the four required documents to be in an aircraft prior to flight (which includes Airworthiness Certificate, Registration Certificate, Radio Certificate, Operations Manual/Placards, and Weight and Balance report).
The Standard Airworthiness Certificate is issued to aircraft that are type certificated in the normal, utility, acrobatic, commuter, transport categories, and for manned free balloons.
For the remaining 6 percent of other aircraft in the U.S. fleet that do not have a Standard Airworthiness Certificate, these guys are issued a Special Airworthiness Certificate.
The Standard Airworthiness Certificate
Now let's look at the words on Standard Airworthiness Certificate, Form 8100-2. My father, a man much wiser than myself, once told me, "Son, any government form or application that contains big and small print — you can bet the big print giveth, and the small print taketh away." Well, Dad was right on with this form. The biggest print on the form is: STANDARD AIRWORTHINESS CERTIFICATE, the rest of the words on the form are so small, it looks the last line on the eye chart for the Philadelphia Lawyer's Bar exam.
There are six blocks on the form, not counting the last three in which the FAA inspector or representative signs.
Block 1 is where the Aircraft's Registration Number goes.
Block 2 is for Make and Model.
Block 3 is for the Aircraft's Serial Number.
Block 4 identifies the Aircraft's Category. Now the term category, as used with respect to the certification of aircraft, means a grouping of aircraft based on its intended use or operating limitations. For example we have categories for Normal. Utility, Acrobatic, Transport, etc.
Block 5, Authority and Basis for Issuance, is where the small print begins. This is the block in which the term "Airworthy" is defined. In the same block, it states that the airworthiness certificate is issued pursuant to the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 and certifies that as of the date of issuance, the aircraft has been inspected and found to conform to the type certificate and therefore, to be in condition for safe operation. So, in Block 5 the airworthiness certificate establishes two conditions for airworthiness: The first condition is the aircraft must conform to its type design consistent with the drawings, specifications, and any other data that is part of the aircraft's type certificate. This condition also includes any major alterations to the type design performed under an STC, Airworthiness Directive, or FAA Field Approval. The second stipulation says that the aircraft must be in a condition for safe operation refers to the state of the aircraft relative to wear and deterioration. Wear limits are usually found in the aircraft's maintenance manual. For those aircraft that never had maintenance manuals or manuals that do not specify "wear," the mechanic must make this part of the airworthiness determination based on his or her background, training, skills, and experience. Because the aircraft's type design is locked down in blood and concrete in the type design specification or data sheet, this first condition of the airworthy determination is pretty easy. The overpaid management consultants call this reference to a fixed standard and example of "objective" decision making process. However, the second condition, in which one makes the determination of "wear," is somewhat "subjective" because not all wear limits are in the manufacturer's manuals. So a good bit of the time every technician makes this second part of the airworthiness decision at the gut level. Perhaps working at this very personal level is why many technicians get into eyeball-to-eyeball shouting matches on the hangar floor over the pros and cons of 1/16-inch of rubber left on a tire. Objective or subjective decision making notwithstanding, just remember that if one or both of these conditions are not met, the aircraft is not airworthy.
Block 6 is labeled Terms and Conditions. This is the block that sets the life limit of the standard airworthiness certificate, as well as the Federal Aviation Regulations that must be met in order to keep the certificate in effect. It starts off with: "Unless sooner surrendered, suspended, revoked, or a termination date is otherwise established by the Administrator, this airworthiness certificate is effective as long as the maintenance, preventive maintenance, and alterations are performed in accordance with Parts 21 (Certification of products and parts) Part 43 (Maintenance, preventive maintenance etc.) and Part 91 (General Operating and Flight Rules) of the Federal Aviation Regulations and the aircraft is registered in the United States.
Now why is this small piece of paper important to technicians since it is the pilot/owner's responsibility to keep up with the paperwork? When you perform an annual or 100-hour inspection and sign off the aircraft as airworthy, you are not held responsible for the future because it is impossible for the technician to ensure the airworthiness of the entire aircraft once it has left his or her care.
So what does the FAA hold the IA/technician responsible for? When you perform an inspection, the FAA holds you responsible for the aircraft's past. In reality, when an IA/technician sign off an inspection and approve the aircraft for return to service, that IA/technician is held responsible for every inspection, major repair, major alteration, AD, STC, Field Approval, and maintenance that has been performed on the aircraft, back to the date of issuance on the Standard Airworthiness Certificate — even if that date is six weeks old, six months old, six years old or sixty years old. So the next time you do an inspection, take a look at the date on the airworthiness certificate. Then make a mental calculation on how many years you are buying off.
Special Airworthiness Certificates
The Special Airworthiness Certificate or Form 8130-7 is the second piece of paper we are discussing today. It easy to tell from the standard airworthiness certificate because it is pink in color. This "pink" certificate is issued to restricted, limited, provisional, multiple, experimental, and primary category aircraft. This Special Airworthiness Certificate is also used for ferry permits. Before being issued a Special Airworthiness Certificate, no matter what category you are requesting, the aircraft must be inspected to see if it is eligible for the certificate requested. In addition, it is very likely that the aircraft will be issued by the FAA Operating Limitations that must be followed at all times.
Restricted Special Airworthiness Certificate is pretty straightforward and a relatively easy category to get your aircraft into because you are asking for a special purpose operations. The most common restricted categories are agricultural aircraft; followed by forest and wildlife conservation, aerial surveying, pipeline patrol, weather control, and aerial advertising.
Multiple Special Airworthiness Certificate is an aircraft that can meet the Standard Airworthiness Certificate, but it can be converted to the restricted category in accordance with FAR sections 21.25 and 21.187. For example, a PA-18-150 was type-certificated in normal category and issued a Standard Airworthiness Certificate, how because the owner wants to pull a 40-letter sign behind it, the aircraft must have a restricted Special Airworthiness Certificate. To avoid the hassle of running to the local FSDO to swap paperwork, a Multiple Special Airworthiness Certificate is what you want. Now you can switch from Standard to Restricted category just by following the operating limitations and making a log book entry. The word "Restricted" must be displayed in accordance with section 45.23(b).
Limited Special Airworthiness Certificates: are for surplus military aircraft that have previously been issued and meet a Limited category type certificate. There are approximately 31 manufacturers who have been issued a Limited category type certificate, so if you have an old military aircraft and you want to get it flying again, contact the local FSDO and see if it qualifies for a Limited. With a Limited Special Airworthiness Certificate, you have a lot more freedom than with an experimental Special Airworthiness Certificate. Besides , it looks a lot less disconcerting to passengers by not having the word "Experimental" emblazoned on the side of your aircraft.
Provisional Special Airworthiness Certificates are only issued to aircraft and engine manufacturers and certificated air carriers. They are issued for special purpose operations such as training flight crews, demonstration flights, market surveys, flight testing, and checking of instrumentation. There are two classes of provisional airworthiness certificates: Class I, which may be issued for all categories, and Class II, which is issued only to Transport category aircraft. In each case, the aircraft must have a corresponding provisional type certificate or an amendment to the aircraft's type certificate allowing the issuance of a Provisional Special Airworthiness Certificate. Experimental Special Airworthiness Certificates are issued to aircraft that do not have a valid type certificate or does not conform to its type certificate.
Experimental Special Airworthiness Certificates are issued for research and development, showing compliance with the regulations, crew training, exhibition, air racing, market surveys, and operation of kit-built aircraft and amateur-built aircraft. These aircraft all have one thing in common. They do not meet a known or published standard. With no published standards to meet, it is not unusual that this category of aircraft has the highest accident rate per 100,000 hours of operation than any other category.
Special Flight Permits (Ferry Permits) also use the Special Airworthiness Certificate, Form 8130-7. They are the "get out of town legally" certificates. The aircraft may not be airworthy, but is safe to fly such as an aircraft out of an annual. Usually they are for one flight only, but depending on circumstances, could have a half a dozen or more. According to section 21.197, a Special Flight Permit can be used for flying an aircraft to a base where maintenance can be performed, or to a place of storage, or delivering or exporting the aircraft, or production flight testing of new production aircraft, or evacuating aircraft from areas of impending danger, or conducting customer demonstration flights. Special Flight Permits can authorize operation of overweight aircraft or for special operations of aircraft operated under Parts 121, 127, and 135.
So the next time you see either a white or pink airworthiness certificate carelessly shoved into plastic pouch, do yourself a favor. Do a little On the Job Training by taking it out, and spending a minute or two reading one of the most powerful documents in aviation. Because you can't fly without one.