I talk to aircraft owners on a daily basis about installations and maintenance for their aircraft and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I often walk away from those conversations with concerns. I love aviation and I’m excited for everyone who gets to experience general aviation, but when you experience what I experience everyday in a FAA Part 145 Repair Station, it’s hard not to admit my concerns. Most of the time, I just decide to take the “mind my own business” approach and never say anything about stuff like this, but the past week this has just been on my mind, so I decided to start blogging.
Here’s my thing, of the approximate fleet of 220,000 general aviation aircraft in the U.S. I’m convinced that a significant percentage of these aircraft owners are...well, let’s say...under funded for their chosen hobby or passion. Owning and/or flying an airplane is just not a cheap interest to have, and it’s not a place to cut corners or find someone who will pencil whip your inspections and maintenance. There seems to be a decreasing number of new GA airplanes being made, and most of the current 220,000 fleet was manufactured prior to the year 2000 and is aging everyday. Think about that for a moment...most of the current fleet is made up of older aircraft. Logic would lead a rational man to assume that older aircraft will require more maintenance, time, and money to keep airworthy. Couple all of that that with the idea that a significant portion of the GA aircraft owners probably under funded and you can start to see where my concerns come from.
Last year, 347 people died in 209 general aviation accidents. I pray to the good Lord every time I taxi for a takeoff and do everything within my power to make sure I don’t become a statistic. Maintenance is important to me and finding good maintenance providers has always been a priority to me. I do more training and dual time with CFII’s than most people I know, not because I don’t feel confident, but because I want to make sure I’m sharp if a situation ever does arise. Surprisingly, the number one cause for aviation accidents in the latest FAA report was Loss of Control Inflight - Stalls, so I figure if I don’t want to be a statistic I better be ready for things like stalls and the best way to do that is to practice them. Not surprising to me, is that the third leading cause to GA accidents is powerplant failures (the total or partial loss of the engine). I’ve always heard that things like bad fuel or low altitude operations were the leading causes, but according to FAA data, they are not the main issues.
I think we should dig into this maintenance and powerplant failure issue a little deeper because a lot of people have lost their lives because of this item. If you look at the FAA data from the 10 year study on GA accidents resulting from maintenance related issues, airplanes were the dominating aircraft type with 85% of the accidents. What was the leading cause of these maintenance related accidents you ask? Installation errors caused most of the accidents in these airplanes! What is an installation error? Oh nothing major, just things like using the wrong part, reversed installation, incorrect installation, not installing a part, or an incorrectly connection. Come on folks, this is your life you are putting on the line here so why would you ever use shops or mechanics with reputations for stuff like this or try to illegally install equipment on your own?
Let me take a stab at that last question. I have these conversations on a weekly basis and the answer can normally be boiled down to because it is cheap and fast. I talk to people all the time that come to Sparkchasers for avionics work, but don’t use our maintenance services, and often get the answer that their “guy” is really good and he always does the annual for $1100 and is done in three days. So, he’s good, fast, and cheap you say…..Superman? Hold on, you have a 1961 airplane that you fly 150-200 hours a year and for the last five years your annual has been done for the flat fee and in 3 days? You either have a 57 year old unicorn or your maintenance provider probably isn’t doing the most thorough job, but I bet you already knew that. The fact is you probably continue to go there because it’s always $1100 and because you are plagued by the “it will never be me” syndrome, thinking it will always happen to someone else. One thing is for sure, you don’t have to worry about Installation Errors being a problem for you because “your guy” hasn’t installed anything for the past 5 years on your airplane.
Is this crazy or is it just me? I searched deep to understand this and I just continue to come up empty. This is serious business and people are going for the cheap and fast option? I can’t tell you how many people come into our shop wanting to buy installation materials like fuses, circuit breakers, Adel clamps, and etc. I know that FAR Part 43 has a list of preventative maintenance items that a certified pilot may perform on a not for hire aircraft, but I’m smart enough to ask these guys what they are doing. You may or may not be surprised at the things these aircraft owners are doing without any supervision of a certified mechanic or repairman. The statistics tell the story….the leading cause of maintenance related accidents is Installation Errors. The reason most of them are out there trying to do an illegal installation is money, which is the real reason why that A&P/IA gets used every year for the $1100 annual in 3 days.
Look, I’m not a hater or a basher of my competition. I know that not every customer is a Sparkchasers customer because some customers don’t value what we offer. However, these statics paint an interesting picture which leads to concern if you really think about it. This is a serious business and too many people are deciding to play roulette, and it’s a near impossibility to win consistently at roulette. I know this blog won’t change the world or the general aviation community, but if it makes just one person think differently about their decisions, well then, it was worth the time it took to write it and the feathers it might ruffle by bringing it up.