Annual Inspections

March 1, 2001

Annual Inspections

A few helpful hints

By Joe Escobar

March 2001

You have recently received your FAA Inspector Authorization. If the FAA inspector that signed your certificate was anything like mine was, he probably gave you a short pep talk when he handed you your certificate, discussing the importance and responsibility of being an IA. One of these responsibilities is performing annual inspections. This article will discuss a few topics concerning annual inspections with a focus on the engine area. Although it is not an exact, how-to article, it should shed some light on various issues concerning these inspections.

Work Order
The first step in performing an annual, once the owner requests an inspection, is initiating a work order. A work order is a basic contract between you and the owner of the aircraft concerning the work that will be included in the inspection. It also serves as a record of parts and man-hours related to the inspection. Putting together a work order also gives the owner an opportunity to list any work he wants done in addition to the inspection. The owner should sign the work order before any work begins.
As far as price goes, you need to determine a price that you feel is fair. Since there is no set price for an annual inspection, and prices vary from region to region, you need to do a little research to determine the average price that is charged for an annual in your area. Charging a price much higher than the average may leave you twiddling your thumbs while others are turning business away. Remember though, that price is a subjective area and you may be able to charge slightly more if the quality of your services makes such a price fair.

Time to hit the books
Once you have a signed work order; research — the tedious part — begins. A good lookover of the aircraft logbook is a good place to begin. Reviewing the logbook gives you an overview of the aircraft configuration. It should also indicate any life-limited parts that need to be checked. A good logbook review will also show repetitive maintenance problems with the aircraft that may require special attention.
The Type Certificate (TC) data sheet needs to be referenced during the research phase. The TC provides information on engine, propeller, and appliance applicability along with other information pertinent to inspection.
Another research area is Airworthiness Directive (AD) verification. Check the logbook AD compliance sheet, if it has one. If there is not one, you should create one to make future inspections easier.
Researching all applicable AD’s can be a time consuming process. Check all applicable AD’s including airframe, powerplant, propeller, and appliance. The appliance AD’s are where you can get in trouble. With so many different appliances and serial numbers, it can be easy to miss an AD. The key is to take your time and be sure that you do thorough research. Remember that just because an AD has been previously signed off, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to verify compliance. Many times, especially when appliances are concerned, an AD may have been performed on an item that has since been changed out. Whenever possible, it is a good practice to do a quick check on all items to verify status. Of course, major disassembly is not necessary unless you have a good indication of non-compliance. Remember – once you sign off the logbook, it is your signature on the line.
Service letters and bulletins that are issued by the manufacturer are also important. Although compliance with these is not mandatory, they are often valuable in correcting unsatisfactory conditions that may exist. Remember, many service bulletins become AD’s, so it isn’t a bad practice to become familiar with those applicable to the aircraft you are working on.

Start clean
Now it is time to remove all necessary inspection plates, access doors, fairings, and cowlings, and thoroughly clean the aircraft and engine. Not only is cleaning a good practice, it is a requirement. (FAR 43 appendix D). Removing all debris and contaminants is crucial for detecting defects. If left in place, debris can cause moisture traps that can lead to corrosion problems. A clean aircraft is also appealing to the customer and may help to ensure repeat business.

Time to inspect
Now that the aircraft is clean, it is time to perform the inspection. If you were thorough in your research, this step will be easier. Remember that you need to use a checklist when performing the annual inspection. This checklist can be of your own design, one provided by the manufacturer of the equipment being inspected, or one obtained from another source. Wherever the checklist comes from, it must include all of the items contained in FAR 43 appendix D. and FAR 43.15(b) for rotorcraft.
Although the checklist included in appendix D includes items applicable to the whole aircraft, we will concentrate on those items particular to the engine area. They include the following:
(1) Engine section – for visual evidence of excessive oil, fuel, or hydraulic leaks, and sources of such leaks. Thorough cleaning of the engine area is helpful in locating leaks. Prior to cleaning, be sure to note any fluids present that may indicate leaks. This gives a general idea of a possible problem area. These areas can be re-inspected after the engine run to locate any leaks.
(2) Studs and nuts – for improper torquing and obvious defects. This doesn’t mean that you have to check the torque of every stud and nut, but they should be inspected carefully for any evidence of improper torquing and defects.
(3) Internal engine – for cylinder compression and for metal particles or foreign matter on screens and sump drain plugs. If there is weak cylinder compression, for improper internal condition and improper internal tolerances. This is pretty much self-explanatory. This covers the cylinder compression check on recip engines. It also calls out for internal condition and tolerance inspection in the event of a low compression result.
(4) Engine mount – for cracks, looseness of mounting, and looseness of engine to mount.
(5) Flexible vibration dampners – for poor condition and deterioration.
(6) Engine controls – for defects, improper travel, and improper safetying. Be sure to also check for proper lubrication as required which may have been removed during the cleaning phase.
(7) Lines, hoses, and clamps – for leaks, improper condition, and looseness. Routing of lines and hoses should be checked to ensure that there is no chafing.
(8) Exhaust stacks – for cracks, defects, and improper attachment.
(9) Accessories – for apparent defects in security of mounting.
(10) All systems – for improper installation, poor general condition, defects, and insecure attachment.
(11) Cowling – for cracks and defects.

Engine run
After the inspection is completed, the engine needs to be run in accordance with FAR 43.15(2). This run is used to determine satisfactory performance in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations of power output (static and idle r.p.m.), magnetos, fuel and oil pressure, and cylinder and oil temperature.

Make those logbook entries
Once you complete the inspection, you need to make the logbook entry. The entry should include the date of the inspection and the aircraft total time in service. Also, total cycles is not a bad idea to include if available. If the aircraft is found to be airworthy and approved for return to service, you should record the following or similarly worded statement: "I certify that this aircraft has been inspected in accordance with an annual inspection and was determined to be in airworthy condition." This should be followed by your signature, printed name for legibility, certificate number, and kind of certificate held.
If the aircraft is not approved for return to service because of needed maintenance, non-compliance with applicable specifications, AD’s, or other approved data, the following or similarly worded statement should be included: "I certify that this aircraft has ben inspected in accordance with an annual inspection and a list of discrepancies and unairworthy items dated (date) has been provided for the aircraft owner or operator."
Make sure that entries are made in all appropriate logbooks including the propeller, engine, and airframe. Also, record compliance of any AD’s in the AD summary sheet.
The ball is now in the owner’s or operator’s court as to the correction of defects noted. By making your logbook entries, you allow him to schedule repair of any defects noted. Always make the logbook entries as neat as possible. Neat entries are professional looking, and always make a lasting impression. Sloppy or unreadable entries also make lasting impressions, although they are not the type that you want. to make.
These tips on annual inspections can give a good starting point for those who have recently received their IA. Always ensure that you are clear on any regulations. An FAA Regional Safety Program Manager recently told me that the majority of violations he encounters are not intentional negligence on the part of the mechanic, but errors based on lack of knowledge. If in doubt, ask a question. You can always call your local FSDO with any questions you have. Although it may seem intimidating, they are usually more than happy to help. This communication can also help develop a good working relationship with your FSDO — something that is essential in any successful aircraft maintenance endeavor.