Your aircraft is undergoing its annual inspection, and your IA tells you that he has to perform some costly maintenance task because the manufacturer says it's required. But is it
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Recently, my aircraft management company SAMM was managing the annual inspection of a client's
piston-powered, single-engine airplane at a well-known maintenance facility in Texas. The inspection found very little wrong with the airplane, and it looked like the annual would be completed quickly
and inexpensively. Then, quite unexpectedly, the IA responsible for the annual went to work for another shop, and a new IA was assigned to take over. Things quickly went downhill after that.
The new IA informed us that he would not be able to sign off the annual unless we agreed to have both TCM/Bendix S-20 magnetos overhauled or replaced, something that would add nearly $2,000 to the
cost of the annual and delay its completion by at least a week. He stated that the magnetos were required to be replaced or overhauled because they had been in service for more than 4 years.
We told the IA we saw absolutely no reason to overhaul or replace the magnetos, and would not approve this work. The IA stubbornly refused to sign off the annual unless this work was done. After
several back-and-forth iterations, it became obvious that we were at an impasse with the IA.
At that point, we took the only reasonable course of action available to us under the FARs: We directed the IA to sign off the annual with discrepancies, obtained a ferry permit from the local FSDO --
allowing the aircraft to be flown back to its home base -- and then had a local A&P make logbook entries clearing the "non-discrepancy discrepancy" that the IA had recorded, and approving the aircraft
for return to service. (The local A&P saw no reason to overhaul or replace the mags either.)
For what it's worth, the TCM/Bendix magnetos on my own Cessna T310R have not been replaced or overhauled for 18 years, and I do not plan to overhaul them until the engines are overhauled. I do regular
500-hour disassembly inspections of the mags and that's all that I consider necessary. Most mechanics would agree with this approach.
What Was the IA Thinking?
In subsequent correspondence with the general manager of the Texas shop (who was the IA's boss) we learned more about why the new IA had decided to take the action he did. The shop manager wrote,
We had an honest difference of interpretation of the maintenance regulations with respect to TCM magneto time/life. Please allow me to outline our view. To be clear, there are two very
different TCM magneto inspection and overhaul/replace criteria to be met.
First, there is a 500 hours-of-use inspection. This is commonly done at any full-service maintenance facility, and there has been no debate about this requirement. It is nothing new, and it is common
industry practice to perform this inspection at 500-hour intervals. In fact, to complete an annual, any shop must perform this inspection if due. I think anyone in the industry would agree.
Second, there is a relatively new, four years time-in-service or five years since-date-of-manufacture requirement to either overhaul or replace TCM magnetos. This fairly recent change was published by
TCM as a revision to SB643B (150 KB Adobe PDF). Our three very experienced and well-respected IAs on staff here have concluded
that TCM magnetos must be overhauled or replaced on a four-year time-in-service schedule, and that neither we nor any other maintenance facility has any leeway with respect to this requirement.
The key points in the revised Service Bulletin SB643B are in the first and the last paragraphs. The first paragraph says, "The following information constitutes the manufacturer's Instructions for
Continued Airworthiness [emphasis added] ..." While this is a service bulletin and is therefore by definition optional, TCM chose to add the language "Instructions for Continued Airworthiness" or
This language -- highly unusual for a Service Bulletin -- led to our interpretation that the 4-year/5-year requirement is not optional based on FAR 43.16 "Airworthiness
Limitations," which states, "Each person performing an inspection or other maintenance specified in an Airworthiness Limitations section of a manufacturer's maintenance manual or Instructions for
Continued Airworthiness shall perform the inspection or other maintenance in accordance with that section ..."
Section 4.C of SB643B then spells out the ICA requirement that "... magnetos must be overhauled or replaced at the expiration of five years since the date of original manufacture or last overhaul, or
four years since the date the magneto was placed in service ..."
Our own opinion based on experience is that the four-year overhaul/replace requirement is too aggressive and does very little to enhance the safety of these aircraft. But until we can obtain some
written guidance to the contrary, we feel that we have no option but to abide by the regulatory requirement as stated in SB643B.
Why the IA Was Wrong
It is apparent from this correspondence that the IA at the shop in Texas did not arrive at his decision lightly. His position was thoughtful and logical. Unfortunately, it was also wrong.
I decided to write this column because I think it's important for aircraft owners and mechanics alike to understand precisely why the IA was wrong, and why the four-year magneto overhaul/replacement
is not required. The same logic used by this IA to conclude that the magnetos had to be replaced is also used by many other mechanics and shops to justify all sorts of other maintenance
"requirements" that aren't actually required.
The Texas IA's principal mistake was misunderstanding the meaning of FAR 43.16:
§43.16. Airworthiness Limitations.
Each person performing an inspection or other maintenance specified in an Airworthiness Limitations section of a manufacturer's maintenance manual or Instructions for Continued Airworthiness
shall perform the inspection or other maintenance in accordance with that section ...
The critical point that the IA missed is that TCM SB643 (which he is relying upon for authority on the four-/five-year "requirement") does not contain an "Airworthiness Limitations" section. In fact,
according to TCM's Loren Lemen (who is the person responsible for writing TCM's maintenance manuals and ICAs), no current TCM maintenance document contains an "Airworthiness Limitations" section. No
Lycoming maintenance document has one, either.
Most maintenance manuals for unpressurized piston-powered airplanes do not contain an "Airworthiness Limitations" section. The only ones that do are recently certified Part 23 airplanes like the
Cirrus SR2x, Columbia 3/4xx, and Diamond DA-4x -- and for those aircraft, the Airworthiness Limitations section contains just a tiny handful of items, none of them related to magnetos. For instance,
the Airworthiness Limitations section of the Cirrus SR22 maintenance manual contains a 10-year parachute repack requirement, a six-year replacement for the parachute-reefing line cutters, and a
15,000-hour life limit on the airframe, and that's about it.
So long as a maintenance manual or ICA does not contain an Airworthiness Limitations section (and most do not), FAR 43.16 does not apply. If it does contain an Airworthiness Limitations section, FAR
43.16 applies only to those items in that section.
The Texas IA also seemed to ignore the fact that TCM SB643 is a manufacturer's service bulletin and therefore ipso facto non-compulsory for a Part 91 operator. I have an official Letter of
Interpretation from the FAA Office of General Counsel that states unequivocally that compliance is never required by regulation with any manufacturer's service bulletin -- even if the
manufacturer says it is mandatory. Consequently, I'm fairly certain that there's no such thing as a service bulletin that contains an Airworthiness Limitations section -- it would make no sense to
have something that is always compulsory embedded in the middle of something that is never compulsory.
Here's the key point that every aircraft owner and mechanic needs to understand: No manufacturer can mandate any maintenance requirement on a Part 91 aircraft owner; only the FAA can do so. The
FAA may mandate a maintenance requirement in three different ways:
- In the Type Certificate Data Sheet (TCDS) for the aircraft, engine or propeller;
- In an FAA-approved "Airworthiness Limitations" section of a manufacturer's maintenance manual or Instructions for Continuing Airworthiness; or
- In an Airworthiness Directive.
If a maintenance requirement is not mandated by the FAA in one of these three ways, then it is not required by regulation for a Part 91 operator.
Recommendation vs. Requirement
The manager of the Texas shop also spoke about a 500-hour time-in-service inspection "requirement" for mags. This disassembly inspection is not a regulatory requirement either, only a
manufacturer recommendation. It happens to be a good recommendation, and one that I agree with wholeheartedly. I do this 500-hour inspection on my own aircraft and always have it done on the aircraft
my company manages, because I believe that it is important to ensure continued reliable operation of the magnetos.
However, I never refer to the 500-hour mag inspection as a "requirement" because it is not. It's simply a recommendation, and a good one. Many operators go far beyond 500 hours without opening up
their magnetos for inspection, and while they may be imprudent in doing so, they are not in contravention of any FAA regulation.
Now, it's very likely that the Texas shop works on multiengine turbine aircraft and large aircraft above 12,500 pounds gross weight. The rules for those aircraft are completely different; they are
required to be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's recommended maintenance program. Thus, for such aircraft, a manufacturer's recommendation does become a regulatory requirement.
But small piston or single-engine turbine aircraft are maintained under a far-less-exacting set of rules, the requirements for which are set forth in Part 43 Appendix D. Those
aircraft are not required to be maintained in accordance with manufacturer recommendations. For such aircraft, manufacturer's recommendations are only that: recommendations.
When I maintain my own airplane, or advise my clients on how to maintain their aircraft, I suggest following manufacturer's recommendations when they make sense, and to disregard them when they do not
make sense. The Texas IA and I seem to agree that arbitrarily replacing or overhauling magnetos every four years does not make sense. The difference is that he believed it was required, while I know
it is not.
Methods, Techniques and Practices
Another much misunderstood regulation is FAR 43.13, which states in part:
§43.13 - Performance rules (general).
(a) Each person performing maintenance, alteration, or preventive maintenance on an aircraft, engine, propeller, or appliance shall use the methods, techniques, and practices prescribed in the
current manufacturer's maintenance manual or Instructions for Continued Airworthiness prepared by its manufacturer, or other methods, techniques, and practices acceptable to the Administrator,
except as noted in §43.16 ...
This regulation is often misinterpreted by mechanics to mean, "If it's in the maintenance manual, then you have to do it." But that's not what it means, at least for Part 91 operators of small piston
or single-engine turbine aircraft. The key to understanding FAR 43.13 is the phrase "methods, techniques and practices." That phrase refers to how to do something, not when to do
In other words, if the manufacturer's maintenance manual or ICAs tells us to do some maintenance task every 500 hours or four years or 2500 landings (or whatever), that's simply a recommended interval
and we (as Part 91 operators) aren't required to comply with those times if we don't want to. However, if we ultimately decide to perform the task at some point, then we are obligated to do it in
precisely the fashion spelled out by the manufacturer in the maintenance manual or ICAs. The manufacturer's "how-to" instructions are compulsory, but the manufacturer's "when-to" instructions are
For example, suppose the maintenance manual tells us to remove, clean, gap, rotate and reinstall spark plugs every 100 hours. This is merely a recommended interval, and we're not required to do it
every 100 hours if we don't want to. However, if the maintenance manual tells us to torque the spark plugs to 330 ±30 inch-pounds, then whenever we decide to do spark-plug maintenance, we are
required to install the plugs to the manufacturer-prescribed torque. The 100-hour interval is a "when-to" (and therefore not mandatory), while the 330 ±30 inch-pound torque is a "how-to" (and
The exception is that a "when-to" becomes mandatory if it is prescribed in (1) the aircraft, engine or propeller TCDS, (2) an "Airworthiness Limitations" section of the maintenance manual or ICA, or
(3) an Airworthiness Directive.
The general manager of the Texas shop was not an A&P or IA himself, so he had relied on his IAs to ensure compliance with FAA regulations. But I found the general manager to be an extremely
intelligent, well-educated and thoughtful person. I had him pull out a copy of Part 43 and of TCM SB643 and we walked him through those documents together much as I have done in this column. After
reading the regulations and the service bulletin with his own eyes, the general manager agreed that I was right and that his IAs were wrong, and promised to give them a little remedial education in
We've now got another client's airplane undergoing an annual inspection at this same shop, and I don't expect that we'll run into this problem again.
See you next month.
AVweb's European correspondent Liz Moscrop pays a fond farewell to the Robin and the Kestrel manufacturers and tells why it is vital to speak up in Europe now.
Click here for the full story.
Bad News For British Radio Users
Britain's Office of Communications (OFCOM) is proposing all users of U.K. airspace -- i.e., airports and air-navigation service providers -- should pay an "administrative incentive pricing" charge for
using radio spectrum.
According to the Association of European Airlines (AEA) the new pricing scheme is merely "a euphemism for tax" that will add £60 million ($105 million) a year to the U.K. treasury's coffers. AEA
also points out that U.K. airlines, airports and general aviation (GA) will become less competitive, since no other governments charge.
OFCOM's response is that it is simply suggesting that aviation and marine sectors be brought in line with other services that use the spectrum, including radio and television. Police and ambulance
services are already charged.
It is possible to comment here on the proposed charges until Oct. 30.
Importance Of Speaking Up
IAOPA-Europe reports that Eurocontrol's director general David McMillan has warned that GA must ensure that its "voice really is heard" as European consultations continue on the development phase of
the Single European Sky SESAR.
He indicated to IAOPA that the regulators are aware that GA should not be penalized as new airspace regulations are formulated. He said, "I'm conscious that there's a direct link between the levels of
equipment that we regulators impose on people and airspace access issues, and we need to find the right balance between the two. It doesn't seem to me that it's in anybody's interest to regulate a
level, either in terms of airspace classification or equipage, that prevents GA doing what seem to me to be a very legitimate set of activities. We need to get that balance right."
EASA Extends FCL Discussions Deadline To December
A great place to speak up is via the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Web site. EASA has extended the deadline for responses to some of the
most far-reaching discussions to impact GA to December 15, two months later than its original deadline of mid-October. New regulations for flight-crew licensing will attempt to bring all European
pilots under the same umbrella, with rules implemented by EASA. The discussions cover the new Leisure pilot license, an overhaul of the IMC rating and medical assessment, among other key issues.
Regional AOPAs are urging their members to log on and respond. AOPA France reports that in the last 18 months 200 French Private pilots obtained an American Instrument rating. The French pilots' group
is calling for an Instrument rating "adapted for Private pilots" (much as the IMC rating is available for U.K. Private pilots). The association says that in North America more half of private pilots
are qualified to fly on instruments and that proportionally PPLs are safer. On a similar note, Martin Robinson, chief executive of AOPA-U.K., is calling for pilots to complete an online survey on the current IMC.
Germany's AOPA Web site concentrates on the potential pitfalls of over zealous license revalidation. Should a pilot fail an onerous theory
test, says AOPA, he or she may abandon flying completely.
EASA says that it has "further extended the consultation period due to the importance of the subject."
The relevant documents NPA 2008-17 a, b and c are available here. Be warned: NPA 2008-17b is 647 pages long (4.5 Mb).
To comment on the new rules go to this page at EASA.
GPS Approach for UK's Shoreham Airport
Pointing the way to a good reason to retain the IMC in the U.K. is the U.K.'s first approved RNAV Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) non-precision approach for GA to use with a GPS. The GPS
approach will be introduced at Shoreham Airport.
Details of the approach at Shoreham are included in the U.K. Air Pilot update published on Oct. 9, and the approach will be available to aircraft and crew meeting the necessary requirements starting
on Nov. 20.
Richard Taylor, Chairman of the CAA's Communications, Navigation and Surveillance for Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) Steering Group, said, "The introduction of the GPS approach at Shoreham Airport
is a significant development in the on-going project to make GNSS non-precision approaches available to U.K. GA pilots."
Pilots flying the approach must have a current Instrument rating or IMC rating. Taylor added, "Now the first approach has been introduced at Shoreham we hope to see other airfields follow. We would
encourage any other airfield meeting the criteria that wishes to add an approach to contact us for assistance and guidance."
Elsewhere in Europe the European Commission imposed a new tax on Swedish avgas, equating to around one US$1 per liter for "private pleasure flying." Since personal pleasure flying is only a tiny
fraction of the community who use avgas, mountains of extra work are created, as those who are eligible must claim the new tax back. The EC has refused to consider tax reductions for cleaner,
lead-free avgas, which is the majority of avgas sold in Sweden.
Ironically, the European Parliament looks set to take a tougher stance on aviation emissions by revamping the European Union emissions trading scheme.
The Environment committee proposes that aviation buy 20 percent of its carbon credits at auction from 2013, gradually increasing to 100 percent in 2020, as well as introducing annual reductions on
The committee will also try to subject aviation to a 5-percent higher level of auctioning than other sectors. Parliament will vote on the amendments on Dec. 16. Ministers were due to meet at the EU
Environment Council on Oct. 20-22 to debate the topic further.
Fight Instructor Training Camp at Egelsbach
AOPA Germany's flight instructor training takes place twice annually alternately in Egelsbach and Braunschweig. This year the course is in Egelsbach on the weekend of Oct. 25-26. The advanced
education course fulfills the prerequisites for extension and renewal of CFI Airplane, Helicopter, and Instrument (Airplane or Helicopter). Interested parties can register at AOPA Germany. Costs are 130 (including tax) for AOPA members and 180 for non-members.
You can get the registration form here.
Credit Crunch Bites Europe's Manufacturers
French aircraft manufacturer Apex Aviation has been put into liquidation by a court in France. The company built Robin and CAP aircraft. In Farnborough, U.K., the company behind the Farnborough F1
Kestrel is now in administration. The six-seat, single-engine, turboprop design was intended to be an air-taxi vehicle. Only one prototype was built, which first flew in 2006.
New Owners For Europa
On a brighter note, Britain's Swift Aircraft has bought British homebuilt firm Europa Aircraft. The Europa is the most popular kit-build
in the U.K. The company says it has sold more than 1,000 models over the last two decades. Europa will continue to operate from its Yorkshire home.
For more aviation news and information from Europe, read the rest of Liz Moscrop's columns.
We've all heard how difficult it is to get new people involved in aviation, and at this year's NBAA Convention AVweb Editor-in-Chief saw how easy it can be to spark an interest in aviation
and why it doesn't always work out. Russ shares his tale (and that of Dan-the-possible-pilot-in-waiting) in the latest installment of our AVweb Insider blog.