Safety topic from Episode 9

Maintenance

So, here you are facing a long trip involving the great and remote outback, leaving behind all that is so familiar including the maintenance organisation whose engineers know your aircraft inside-out. You may like to give that some thought in the weeks leading up to your flight, and spend some quality time getting to know your aircraft, going over it with your LAME, asking questions about the aircraft’s recent maintenance, reading over the Log Books and Maintenance Release and making sure you understand every entry that appears on them, including any future maintenance requirements that are on the Maintenance Release that could become due during your epic trip. 

A safe and hassle-free flight has its foundations in good maintenance. Clearly, if the aircraft won’t fly, you aren’t going anywhere. Safety is the obvious factor but, make no mistake, it IS a hassle when things go wrong with your aircraft – a time-consuming, often expensive and trip-wrecking hassle.  While there are complex defects and incidents, such as a propeller strike, that only a LAME can assess and rectify, there are some simple problems that can have huge safety implications which can be avoided. 

Think about a blocked pitot tube just as you take off at somewhere like Forrest in the middle of the Nullarbor; a rough running engine and unacceptable “mag drop”; a vacuum pump failure; a flat battery or a punctured tyre. The nearest maintenance organisation is at Kalgoorlie, over 340 nautical miles away, and the rescue mission is guaranteed to involve all kinds of woe, linking up an available LAME who has the parts for your particular aircraft and who, after hours of delay, arrives with a box of parts, only to find that the problem as explained over the phone is not the real problem at all. 

We’re not suggesting you can prevent all mechanical failures, or that you are expected to attempt every maintenance action that a pilot is permitted to do on your aircraft, but you can certainly go a long way towards reducing the likelihood of a maintenance issue if you follow the advice and guidelines available. 

Common maintenance issues

Despite the attention we are all taught to give to a thorough Daily Inspection, the findings of incident and accident reports constantly point to avoidable airworthiness issues. Here are a few that have caught the unwary as they launched into the great outdoors, plus some background reading. 

  • Water contaminating the fuel (AWB 28-008). Also read AWB 28-003 re using the correct fuel.
  • Wasps nesting inside the pitot tube and fuel vents (AWB 02-052, AWB 28-013)
  • Wrong petrol/rubber hose combination. (AWB 02-006) 
  • Pilots conducting maintenance they may be permitted to do - but know nothing about!  ATSB report AO-2013-174 details a fatal accident attributed to the loss of one spark plug resulting from the actions of a pilot, inexperienced in maintenance. 
  • A dud Emergency Locator Transmitter  (AWB 02-002)

ATSB advises: “Ongoing safety requires aircraft owners and maintainers to operate and maintain an aircraft in accordance with relevant regulations, including those specific to experimental aircraft. While the regulations allow for an experimental aircraft builder to be granted approval to conduct ongoing maintenance, the builder must have sufficient engineering skill and knowledge.”

A few pieces of sound advice: 

  • Always think about the effects the environment may have on an aircraft. 
  • Raise your standards with regard to knowing your aircraft and its systems. 
  • Be vigilant in your inspection of the aircraft, not allowing yourself to get distracted, and remain alert for elements that just look, sound, smell or feel - wrong. Use all your senses. 
  • Give your utmost attention to fuel management and refuelling.
  • And, before it happens, promise yourself that when you are faced with some undefined “not quite right” nagging doubt about the full serviceability of your aircraft, you will shut down the engine and remove the key until you are satisfied that all is well. 

Notes on useful resources

CAAP 43-1 Maintenance Release (CAR 43)  

Records maintenance that has been done, including defects and their rectification since the maintenance release was issued, and the maintenance required before the next 100 hourly inspection.

CAAP 42B-1 CASA Maintenance Schedule  

This CAAP should be read in conjunction with:

  • CAAP 42-2 Maintenance Requirements For Class B Aircraft; 
  • CAAP 42L-1 Inspection of aircraft after abnormal flight loads, heavy landing or lightning strike; and 
  • the preamble to Schedule 5, found in Civil Aviation Regulations 1988 (CAR), Part 4

NOTE:  The CASA Maintenance Schedule, CASA Schedule 5, is the generic maintenance schedule that many aircraft operators have elected to use to maintain their aircraft instead of the manufacturer’s schedule. Remember that Schedule 5 is just a list of maintenance tasks that may not be suitable for your aircraft, and that the intelligence to do the tasks is found in the manufacturer’s data.  All maintenance must be accomplished in accordance with approved data.

CASA’s Maintenance Guide for Pilots 

Useful resource in simple language and well illustrated. Here’s where you will also find a practical, step-by-step guide on how to fill out a Maintenance Release.

CAAP 42 ZC-1(2) Schedule 8  Pilot Maintenance 

While this Schedule lists the maintenance actions a pilot is entitled to do under sub regulation 42ZC(4) , never attempt any maintenance action which may be listed in the Schedule but for which you have not been trained. Again, all maintenance must be accomplished in accordance with the approved data. 

CAAP 50A/B-1  Aircraft log books 

Records the aircraft maintenance history for the engine, airframe, propeller, including compliance with Airworthiness Directives and all critical parts installed in the aircraft.