July 28, 2021 | By JETechnology Staff
Like all complex mechanical systems, aircraft require regular maintenance to ensure safety and reliability. Preventive maintenance is key to keeping an aircraft in good condition and identifying potential problems before they lead to serious consequences. Both certified aviation maintenance technicians and pilots who hold a pilot certificate issued under 14 CFR Part 61 are authorized to perform aircraft preventive maintenance, although both groups must adhere closely to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
Let’s take a closer look at what preventive maintenance looks like and how pilots, aircraft owners and technicians can be better prepared to handle it safely and effectively.
What Is Preventive Aircraft Maintenance?
The preventive maintenance definition covers preservation or replacement tasks that do not involve complex assembly operations. Essentially, this is any work performed from a list of permitted tasks where you’re replacing small standard parts or servicing parts of the aircraft without taking much apart. Aircraft preventive maintenance typically takes place on a regular schedule and aims to prevent major problems through upkeep. Some preventive maintenance tasks include:
- Running tests
- Checking for wear
- Lubricating and cleaning certain components
- Replacing acceptable items
So who can perform preventive maintenance? As long as the owner or operator of an aircraft is also the holder of a pilot certificate, they can conduct aircraft preventive maintenance. Pilot-performed preventive maintenance cannot, however, be done on aircraft used under 14 CFR parts 121, 127, 129 or 135. Other people who can perform maintenance are certified technicians.
Keep in mind that, although a pilot is authorized to conduct maintenance, it isn’t always the best choice. It’s up to the pilot to determine if they have the necessary skills to complete the maintenance task. If a pilot is lacking in mechanical experience, they should seek out a qualified mechanic or technician for guidance or service.
The types of tasks performed in preventive maintenance in aviation can vary from aircraft to aircraft and will depend on the accessibility of the components in question. Furthermore, any aircraft engine, airframe, appliance or propeller worked on during preventive maintenance must at least match its condition prior to alteration.
Preventive maintenance in aviation also includes regular inspections and checks and covers:
- Preflight checks: The preflight checks that pilots are required to conduct fall under preventive maintenance. Pilots look for obvious issues and run through a checklist to ensure the aircraft is safe to fly, including inspections of both the cabin and the exterior of the aircraft.
- 50- and 100-hour inspections: Many aircraft used for hire or flight instruction have inspections after 50 hours or 100 hours of flight. While 50-hour checks aren’t required by the FAA, they are often done at the same time as an oil change, which must be done at least every 50 hours. The 100-hour inspections are required by the FAA.
- Annual inspections: Every 12 months, most aircraft require thorough inspections and cannot be flown without them. An annual is very thorough and includes engine inspections, avionics and control checks, logbook reviews and parts checks.
- Progressive inspections: These inspections are good for high-use aircraft such as those used by fixed-based operators (FBOs) and flight schools. They are performed more often, usually every 25 to 50 hours, but take less time. Plans for progressive inspections are often provided by airframe manufacturers.
Preventive Maintenance vs. Reactive Repairs
The key idea behind preventive aircraft maintenance is that it comes before failure occurs, not after. Reactive repairs are performed after a part has failed or a problem has occurred. The primary benefit of preventive practices is that they take a proactive approach, identifying and fixing issues before they would cause business interruptions, safety problems or financial issues. They ensure machinery stays in top shape with reduced risk for damage and downtime.
Preventive maintenance is done on a strict schedule, often outlined by company guidelines and based on a certain timeframe or number of use hours, such as a 50 or 100-hour inspection. Requirements and frequency may change based on the type of aircraft and its use.
With preventive maintenance plans, the business gets to make repairs on its own schedule, when it’s much more cost-effective to do so. Reactive repairs often leave companies scrambling to make fixes as fast as possible. They may pay more for parts and lose money for every minute the aircraft is out of service. Failure to adhere to FAA requirements could also result in hefty fines and restrictions. Aside from the financial aspects, preventive maintenance can also prevent the reputational damage that a safety incident could bring and maintain one’s position as a safe flight provider.
Types of Preventive Aircraft Maintenance
Preventive maintenance is just one type of aircraft maintenance. The following information outlines some of the other types:
- Major repairs: Major repairs are those that, if done improperly, could noticeably affect an aircraft’s balance, weight, structural strength, powerplant operation, performance, flight characteristics or other qualities that would affect airworthiness. They also include repairs that weren’t done according to accepted practices or those that can’t be done by elementary operations.
- Major alterations: Major alterations are not listed in the engine, propeller or aircraft specifications. Like major repairs, major alterations are those that could affect an aircraft’s airworthiness, were not performed according to accepted practices or that can’t be completed by elementary operations. They are outlined along with major repairs in 14 CFR Part 43 Appendix A and must be approved for return to service with FAA Form 337. That form should be approved by an appropriately rated certified repair station, a representative of the Administrator or an FAA-certified Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) mechanic holding an Inspection Authorization (IA).
- Minor repairs and alterations: These changes can be approved for a return to service as long as they’ve been properly entered into maintenance records by an FAA-certified A&P mechanic or appropriately certified repair station. If modifying an experimental aircraft, users will need to refer to operating limitations issued to the aircraft, because modifications might call for notification to the issuing authority.
Knowing which type of maintenance is being conducted is key to staying compliant with FAA regulations and ensuring a safe flight.
Benefits of Preventive Aircraft Maintenance
The primary benefit of preventive maintenance in aviation has to do with safety. By catching potential problems early and addressing them before they lead to performance issues, preventive maintenance helps to ensure that aircraft continue to operate safely while minimizing unscheduled downtime. Deteriorating or broken components get caught during regular inspections and fixed before they fail during a flight, allowing for significant safety improvements.
Aside from the safety advantages, other benefits of FAA preventive maintenance include:
- Reliability: With regular maintenance, you decrease the chances of equipment failure for a more trustworthy piece of equipment with less downtime. In many cases, you can also extend the lifespan of an aircraft component. For example, oil changes keep the system working efficiently and prevent early wear, like they would in a car.
- Greater mechanical skill: Aircraft maintenance often helps owners and pilots become more in-tune with the mechanics of the plane, so they can better identify issues before problems occur. It can function somewhat like a training session and improve their understanding of the machinery they operate every day.
- Increased workplace safety and compliance: By preventing system failure, you make aircraft much safer and provide greater support for various workplace safety regulations and demands. A preventive maintenance schedule also makes it easier for technicians to take their time on repairs, rather than rushing to fix a complex issue to reduce downtime. You can offer clean and secure work areas, too.
- Better efficiency: Fewer unplanned repairs means a more efficient operation that runs according to a predetermined schedule. Fewer last-minute repairs keep things moving as planned.
- Cost savings: All of these benefits, from reduced downtime to longer part life, help to keep costs down. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a business can save 12% to 18% on average, if not more, when using preventive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance. Aircraft owner maintenance, when performed properly, can also save money since simple tasks can be handled by the individual owner rather than outsourced to a technician.
Regardless of what your operation looks like, aircraft preventive maintenance can be a great advantage, with significant benefits for both flight safety and business operations.
Preventive Aircraft Maintenance List
The types of preventive maintenance permitted in aviation are limited to 31 items, which can be found listed in 14 CFR Part 43 Appendix A. Any tasks not listed are not considered preventive maintenance, which means a pilot cannot complete them without supervision. A preventive maintenance list includes:
- Replacing safety belts.
- Replacing or cleaning spark plugs.
- Changing and repairing landing gear tires.
- Replenishing hydraulic fluid.
- Replacing and servicing batteries.
- Replacing safety wires.
- Checking oil levels and condition.
- Replacing air filters.
- Lubricating components that don’t require disassembly.
This list is not exhaustive, and you can find the full list in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.
When conducting maintenance tasks, there are a few things to keep in mind. You should always make sure you have the approved manuals, tools and parts on hand and practice thorough documentation.
You will also want to consider which components you’re including in your preventive maintenance plan. Focus on those that are more likely to fail and will benefit the most from routine maintenance. These include:
- Components that have reliability levels dependent on scheduled maintenance, such as lubrication or oil changes.
- Components that are susceptible to age-related deterioration regardless of maintenance practices — where inspections are essential to identifying problems before they result in dangerous or expensive issues.
Preventive Maintenance Regulations
One key component of preventive maintenance is the logbook. All procedures should be systematically logged, with a description of the work, the date and the signature, certification number and type of certification held by the person performing maintenance. That person’s signature serves as an approval for the aircraft to return to service only regarding the work they signed off on.
Make sure you’re using the right logbook for each type of maintenance. Airframes and powerplants, for instance, should be logged in the airframe logbook and powerplant logbook, respectively. If you’re not sure which category a procedure falls under, log it in both books.
Preventive maintenance involves adherence to several important regulations and requirements:
- Airworthiness Directives (ADs): If a product has been deemed unsafe, the FAA may issue an AD, requiring it to be fixed before flight to be an approved unit. These required safety alterations can be conducted during preventive maintenance.
- Proper documentation: Regardless of who performs preventive maintenance, all work should be recorded in the appropriate aircraft logbook. Be sure to include a description of any work performed, the date when the work was completed and the signature, kind of certificate and certificate number belonging to the person who performed the work.
- Proper displays: After maintenance, ensure all required placards are installed and that the aircraft registration and certificate of airworthiness are in the aircraft and accessible.
- Appropriate cleanrooms: All workrooms will need to be clean and dry, meeting applicable standards and providing a safe, non-hazardous environment for technicians and pilots to conduct repairs and maintenance. Fluid on the ground or trip hazards could spell any number of problems for workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a wide range of regulations in place to protect workers, including the need for a clean and safe workspace. This is also key to avoiding contamination or damage to sensitive parts. Always maintain written instructions and logs for cleaning practices.
Maintaining a safe and long-lasting aircraft is best done with a systematic approach. This includes a well-outlined schedule with clear, written instructions, along with aspects such as:
- Worksite analysis: A documented process for worksite analysis helps ensure adherence to OSHA standards and regular inspections for added safety. It’s also a great place to consider your efficiency, as you can ensure components are in the right place and proper procedures are being followed.
- Hazard prevention and control plans: A hazard prevention and control plan also helps facilities meet OSHA guidelines and involves aspects such as worker involvement and a hierarchy of controls. Worker involvement is all about including the people who are most in-tune with the process, such as technicians, and learning from their input. The hierarchy of controls helps management identify and select the most effective methods of preventing hazards.
- Training: Both effective maintenance practices and safety and health knowledge are key components of safe, well-performed aircraft maintenance. An approved training program is an excellent way to ensure a knowledgeable team that’s consistently updated on changes and evolving needs within the facility and industry.
Contact Us Today
The benefits of preventive aircraft maintenance make it well worth the investment for military and commercial aircraft. However, to get the most out of preventive maintenance, you also need the right tools to protect maintenance workers.
At JETechnology Solutions, we have more than 75 years of experience providing aircraft maintenance stands with built-in fall protection. These turnkey solutions are available for fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft and are completely built in-house for a product with exceptional quality. We offer custom, value-engineered solutions that are tailored to the needs of your operation, supported by a skilled team and top-tier customer service. To learn more about the benefits of our platforms for preventive maintenance, contact us online today.