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Tales from the DAR Side

Operating Limitations – Wrapping It Up

By Joe Norris, for Experimenter

Joe Norris
Joe Norris

Over the course of the past several issues we’ve talked about many of the details of amateur-built aircraft operating limitations. This month in the final chapter of the miniseries we’ll discuss the inspection requirements for your aircraft. Technically, this isn’t an “annual” inspection, even though it’s required to be performed annually. The FAA actually has a specific definition for an annual inspection, requiring the aircraft undergoing such an inspection to reference its type certificate and any supplemental type certificates as may be applicable. There are just a few more details to talk about, so let’s get right to it.

Over the course of the past several issues we’ve talked about many of the details of amateur-built aircraft operating limitations. This month in the final chapter of the miniseries we’ll discuss the inspection requirements for your aircraft. There are just a few more details to talk about, so let’s get right to it.

One issue that will be addressed in every set of operating limitations, regardless of when they were issued, is the inspection requirements for the aircraft. In most cases the operating limitations will require that the aircraft be inspected within the preceding 12 calendar months. While this sounds very much like the annual inspection that most of our general aviation aircraft are required to undergo, it’s actually a different animal all together.

Annual checklist

An annual inspection on a typical GA aircraft is required by FAR 91.409. But reading paragraph (c) of this regulation will reveal that the inspection requirements called out in the regulation don’t apply to aircraft carrying a current experimental airworthiness certificate. The FAA typically wants our experimental aircraft to be inspected each year, so since the regulation itself doesn’t require such an inspection, the FAA must place this requirement in the operating limitations.

Technically, this isn’t an “annual” inspection, even though it’s required to be performed annually. The FAA actually has a specific definition for an annual inspection, requiring the aircraft undergoing such an inspection to be compared to its type certificate and any supplemental type certificates as may be applicable. Since our experimental aircraft don’t have a type certificate, they can’t undergo an annual inspection as defined by the FAA. This being the case, the inspection performed on an experimental aircraft is referred to as a condition inspection. And since this inspection isn’t an annual inspection by FAA definition, the person performing it isn’t required to hold an inspection authorization (IA).

So who is authorized to perform the condition inspection on our amateur-built aircraft? The operating limitations will contain that information as well, in the form of the following or a similarly worded limitation:

“An experimental aircraft builder certificated as a repairman for this aircraft under § 65.104 or an appropriately rated FAA-certificated mechanic may perform the condition inspection required by these operating limitations.”

The Repairman Certificate Mystery
The regulation called out in this limitation, FAR 65.104, allows the original primary builder of an amateur-built aircraft to qualify for a repairman certificate. Calling this a repairman certificate has caused a good bit of confusion within the amateur-built community, as the name implies that you need the certificate in order to make repairs to the aircraft. This is actually not the case. The fact is, the person performing maintenance, repair, or modification to an amateur-built aircraft isn’t required to hold any FAA certificate at all – an issue I’ll cover a bit later in this article.

This repairman certificate is actually only necessary when performing the condition inspection on the aircraft, as called out in the above-quoted limitation. Be aware that the repairman certificate is aircraft-specific. It’s only applicable to the aircraft called out on the certificate. So just because you hold the repairman certificate for your own homebuilt, that doesn’t authorize you to perform the condition inspection on your friend’s homebuilt, even if it’s the same model. You’ll note that an “appropriately rated FAA-certificated mechanic” is also authorized to perform the inspection. This is “lawyer language” for an A&P mechanic. Note that it specifically says “mechanic” and not “inspector,” so any A&P can perform the inspection. No IA is required.

We now know that the aircraft needs to be inspected each 12 calendar months, and the holder of the repairman certificate for that aircraft is authorized to perform the inspection as is an A&P mechanic. But how is this inspection documented? Again, the operating limitations hold the answer. You’ll find a limitation that reads something like this:

“Condition inspections must be recorded in the aircraft maintenance records showing the following, or a similarly worded, statement: “I certify that this aircraft has been inspected on [insert date] in accordance with the scope and detail of appendix D to part 43, and was found to be in a condition for safe operation.” The entry will include the aircraft total time-in-service, and the name, signature, certificate number, and type of certificate held by the person performing the inspection.”

This limitation tells you to record the inspection in the aircraft maintenance records (typically the airframe logbook) and gives you the appropriate verbiage to use. As you can see, everything regarding the inspection requirements for your aircraft can be found in the operating limitations.

Now what about the maintenance? Maintenance requirements are called out in Part 43 of the FAA regulations. Right at the start of Part 43 there’s a paragraph regarding applicability. This paragraph contains the following verbiage:

“This part does not apply to—

  1. Any aircraft for which the FAA has issued an experimental certificate, unless the FAA has previously issued a different kind of airworthiness certificate for that aircraft;”

This specifically states that Part 43 doesn’t apply to an aircraft that holds an experimental airworthiness certificate except in those cases where a different type of certificate was previously held. Because our amateur-built aircraft have always held an experimental airworthiness certificate since their original certification, this statement applies. This is why there’s no requirement to hold an FAA certificate of any type when doing maintenance, repair, or modification on an amateur-built aircraft. You don’t have to be the builder or the owner or hold any FAA authorization of any kind when performing these functions.

Night and/or IFR Operation

The inspection requirements we’ve just discussed are pretty much universal and will be found in any set of operating limitations regardless of when they may have been issued. The last issue I’d like to discuss is something that varies from limitation to limitation, even if the limitations were issued at approximately the same time frame. The issue I’m referring to is night and/or IFR operation. It is very important that a pilot be aware of whether or not an aircraft is allowed to fly at night or under IFR before undertaking such flights. You can’t just go by whatever equipment is installed. You need to check to make sure the appropriate limitation is present.

Operating limitations issued in the early days of homebuilt aircraft, and even some up into the 1980s, contain a simple statement that looks something like this:

“This aircraft is to be operated under VFR, day only.”

That’s pretty straightforward and easy to understand. Many of these early homebuilts weren’t equipped for night or IFR, so the limitation was appropriate. But as homebuilt aircraft progressed in performance, utility builders began to have a desire to expand the operational envelope. The FAA finally started to include a limitation that allowed night flight, and then later IFR flight, providing that the aircraft was properly equipped. Current operating limitations will contain the following or a similarly worded statement:

“After completion of phase 1 flight testing, unless appropriately equipped for night and/or instrument flight in accordance with § 91.205, this aircraft is to be operated under VFR, day only.”

This limitation opens up the opportunity to fly the aircraft at night or under IFR if it’s equipped in accordance with FAR 91.205, titled “Powered civil aircraft with standard category U.S. airworthiness certificates: Instrument and equipment requirements.”You’ll note that, like the maintenance regulations found in Part 43 discussed earlier, this regulation only directly applies to aircraft with standard airworthiness certificates. Homebuilt aircraft operating VFR day aren’t required to contain all the listed equipment. But the operating limitation makes § 91.205 applicable to those homebuilts that are to be operated at night or under IFR.

Note that this regulation works on a “building block” principle, where aircraft flown at night must have all the day VFR equipment as well as that called out for night, and aircraft flown under IFR must have all the day VFR and night VFR equipment in addition to the IFR equipment. So if you want to operate your homebuilt at night or under IFR, you need to make sure that the operating limitations allow such operations and make sure your aircraft includes the proper equipment. For more info on equipping your homebuilt for IFR operation, see my article posted in the Homebuilders HQ section of the EAA website.

This concludes our discussion of amateur-built aircraft operating limitations, and with that I bring this column to a close as well. By the time you read this I will have left the EAA and will already be onto my next challenge. I want to thank all of you for subscribing to Experimenter and for supporting the homebuilt movement. I have enjoyed meeting many of you and have always appreciated your thoughts and suggestions. EAA has always been about members helping members, and I encourage all of you to continue that tradition.

So long!

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