A Look at the Typical Maintenance FBO

The structure, challenges, and trends of the backbone of the General Aviation maintenance industry

In today’s economy, at almost every airport you go to and every FBO you visit, you will find several aircraft projects that have been started and put on hold or abandoned altogether due to the lack of funds. When a project is delayed this is not good for the customer, the business, or the aircraft. At a typical FBO, just doing annual inspections and routine maintenance is not sufficient to keep the lights burning. A large percentage of the annual income of FBO facilities is generated through major repairs or alterations or rebuild projects.

Small FBOs are generally located at small county or municipal airports and the facilities which are supposed to be maintained by the local government authorities aren’t always getting the support they need. I went to a FAA sponsored flight safety seminar a while back and had a conversation with the FBO operator there about local politics and the lack of support from the local authorities. Apparently the challenges associated with trying to maintain a decent facility and pleasant environment to work in are not geographically sensitive.

Unfortunately the airport facilities seem to be on the bottom of the list as far as the authorities are concerned. It would make sense to me that the local airport should be a big part of having a thriving community. Many local business owners have businesses in other places or live in other places, and use their aircraft for their business travel, not to mention vacationing. You would think that the governing authorities would realize the importance of having a working rest room, a roof that doesn’t leak, or a taxiway that isn’t gravel and full of holes. These items should be considered necessities but frequently don’t make it through the budgeting process.

And, the operators of these facilities frequently aren’t even allowed to do some repairs themselves out of their own pockets. With more stringent environmental concerns, authorities no longer allow operators to wash airplanes or engines at their facilities due to EPA hazardous regulations.


Industry trends

In my opinion, East Texas is a wonderful place to live, especially close to the coast, but it is also very hard on aircraft. One of the things that we do at our facility is corrosion prevention, treatment, and repairs. Aircraft located and maintained in this area require special attention pertaining to corrosion issues because just like humans, they are a product of their environment.

At the last IA seminar I went to there was a representative from Cessna doing a segment on corrosion and its impact on the aging general aviation fleet. The best advice I can offer is nip it in the bud. The best way to prevent corrosion from being a major issue is to do extensive inspections using a flash light and mirror or even a borescope in difficult-to-see places. If you see signs of corrosion, clean and treat the area immediately.

In the last year we have disassembled and repaired three Cessna wings for corrosion on the front spars and the leading edges at the lower lap joint, and I have two more in the shop now. Other areas to pay particular attention to are areas with dissimilar metals such as the steel fittings on the aluminum flight controls on Piper aircraft and foam-filled trailing edges on some Cessna controls.

Another trend that I have noticed in the last year is cylinder compression failure on large bore engines. In the past few years there have been several bulletins addressing the issue of low compression on fairly new cylinders and even stated in one bulletin that sometimes a compression reading slightly below the minimum, according to the aircraft maintenance manuals, may still be airworthy.

I just want to say that we have had a larger than normal volume of failed cylinders in the last year and in each case the cylinders were pulled and found to have cracks or wear that was out of limits. Many of these cylinders only had 300 or 400 hours on them. I would encourage anyone who is having issues with engine compression being border-line to consider pulling the cylinder for further investigation.


A great resource

Your local FBO is a great place to work, a great place to take your aircraft, or even a great place to just get advice. I believe the IAs that run these FBOs are the only people you can go to with your general aviation aircraft that can probably repair anything that is broke. They can answer any question that you may have regardless if it is concerning operating, repairing, or regulatory issues. No one can answer every question about every aircraft but the IA will be your best shot.

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