Anyone who has ever been involved with flying the Club aircraft as a Flight Instructor, Company Pilot, Student or Renter knows how important it is to perform a pre-flight inspection and to recognize any technical issues that may arise throughout the flight. All BFC aircraft are registered for commercial operations which includes flight training, charter and aerial survey. Aircraft operating in these environments are subject to strict maintenance programs which include regularly scheduled inspections, oil changes and various out-of-phase requirements (such as compass swing, ELT re-certification and internal magneto inspections, to name just a few examples). The aircraft are also subject to recurring AD (Airworthiness Directive) requirements, Service Bulletins and other ICA’s (Instructions for Continued Airworthiness) in order to cover as many areas as possible in maintaining the serviceability and reliability of the aircraft for each and every flight.
Even though these aircraft are well maintained machines, they are also prone to unscheduled technical issues such as faulty instrumentation, rough running and intermittent component operation. These issues simply cannot be predicted and may randomly fail (or partially fail) while in service. Dealing with these surprises is part of the reality of piloting many small aircraft. The good news is that the aircraft will remain structurally safe and sound to fly even though a system or component may become unreliable. This is largely due to the robust design of the aircraft coupled with the mandatory maintenance work being performed by the AMO (Approved Maintenance Organization). The bad news is that we have to learn to safely deal with whatever we cannot control. The impact of these technical issues will often dictate the airworthiness status of the aircraft according to an approved system of Defect Control and Rectification contained within the company MCM (Maintenance Control Manual). Think of the MCM as the POH for company procedures.
These unscheduled technical issues are properly known as defects and more commonly referred to in pilot language as snags. You can refer to them with the preferred vernacular. Due to the random nature of these unforeseen defects, all persons working on or around the aircraft must remain vigilant in spotting anything unusual. This includes flight instructors and students, maintenance and line staff, recreational pilots, and company pilots. It is imperative that Flight Instructors teach their students the very same process that they are bound to when finding and reporting defects. Keep in mind that the continued airworthiness of the company aircraft depends on this reporting system regardless of who is flying or handling the aircraft. Anyone who rents a club aircraft must become familiar with the same process designed specifically for all BFC flight operations. Refer to section 15 of the company MCM for details concerning defect reporting.
It is completely understandable that less experienced pilots will be less proficient in determining what conditions are considered to actually be defective. With gained experience, pilots should become naturally more vigilant in determining the serviceability of the aircraft. This is why diligent instructor oversight and mentoring represent a necessary component of the flight training process. Students must learn to use journey logs in the same manner as seasoned employees. Remember that the journey log is used for all aircraft flight and work activity in order to provide the ongoing “story” of the aircraft. We also refer to it as the primary means of technical dispatch.
Once a defect or suspected defect is discovered, it must be written on the very next line in the journey log by the person who found it in order to effectively ground the aircraft from flight until a maintenance assessment can be made. However, if we back up to the initial discovery of the defect, the pilot has a couple of options before making the defect entry if unsure as to the validity of the finding. One option is to simply consult with a more experienced instructor or company pilot, and the other is to describe the finding to the Maintenance Manager or delegated ACA (Aircraft Certification Authority) with the primary goal of determining whether or not an actual defect exists. We will learn more about the ACA role below. This experience of reporting defects is a learning process as you may still encounter situations that you have not seen before. A pilot should never hesitate to ask questions and a mentor should never belittle the sincere intentions of the pilot. If it has been determined that a defect indeed exists on the aircraft then it must be entered in the journey log as described above. If a defect does not exist then the aircraft simply remains in service. A defect occurring away from base shall be subject to the same process of contacting the company for direction on how to proceed. Other maintenance providers can be contracted if necessary.
A defect entry in the journey log should indicate to anyone involved that the aircraft is not airworthy (and not available for dispatch) until it has been answered with an appropriate deferral or a rectification (complete with a signed and stamped maintenance release). There may very well be a situation after regular operating hours where a pilot is unsure of a suspected defect and has no one available to help with that determination. In this case, the MCM makes a provision for contacting the Maintenance Manager by phone so that a determination can be made through a detailed description and possibly photos sent of the issue in question. If a final decision to qualify the defect still cannot be made, then the pilot has no choice but to enter the defect (or suspected defect) into the journey log thus grounding the aircraft until it can be assessed by maintenance. The primary goal is to ensure that the aircraft is safe for flight. A good clean hand-off process demands clear communication between flight operations and maintenance so that each can do their part.
There have been instances where a known defect exists on a particular aircraft yet the pilot-in-command has decided to continue with the intended flight only because no other aircraft were available or he/she felt that it was okay to do the flight first, then maybe enter something later. Some defects are verbally shared amongst flight crews to provide a simple heads-up of an existing issue but no one actually wants to ground the aircraft because of a busy schedule. All of these scenarios are unacceptable and are contrary to the approved procedures that we have contracted with Transport Canada as the regulating authority. Not entering defects as prescribed is a dangerous game to play with company aircraft. While it is certainly disappointing to cancel a flight that you were looking forward to, the process still represents the way it’s done across the industry. In that respect, it’s not a perfect system but it is necessary for the prompt assessment of possible airworthy issues. Time to spare? Go by air!
In certain cases, it is possible for the Maintenance Manager to defer a defect that does not affect the continued serviceability of the aircraft. Actually, the defect remains, but the rectification is delayed to a later, more convenient time. This is one of the options to assessing the defect to see how it will affect the operation and/or role of the aircraft and is largely determined by referencing CAR 605. Aircraft are permitted to fly without certain systems operating provided that they are directly referenced by the regulations which may prescribe specific operating restrictions. In this case, the Maintenance Manager or delegated ACA would answer the recorded defect with a deferral statement including any operating restriction(s). As an additional safety net, the affected system is also placarded as to its status and the system isolated in some manner as to prevent any inadvertent attempt to use it. CAR 605 will itemize the minimal equipment required for various phases of flight (such as VFR, IFR, Night operations). This is similar to, but not the same as a MEL (Minimum Equipment List) used for larger category aircraft.
There are two types of deferrals that we have approved for BFC operations. One is a standard defectdeferral where a faulty system is removed or isolated with the rectification planned by the next scheduled inspection. The other is called a Long-term deferral which primarily includes defects of a cosmetic nature such as upholstery defects or small cracks in plastic fairings. These items may be repaired at the next inspection or may be carried over even longer until a more convenient time with virtually no interference with normal aircraft operations. Both of these types of deferrals are itemized on separate control sheets found inside the back cover of the aircraft journey log for quick reference.
The assessment and subsequent response to recorded defects can only be performed and entered by an approved company ACA holder. This is why it is imperative that defects be communicated directly to the Maintenance Manager or his delegated ACA. Apprentices and non-ACA AME’s are not permitted to make a defect assessment on their own unless doing some investigative activity on behalf of an authorized person. A company technician with an AME license does not automatically include ACA privileges until a separate level of in-house training is completed and then authorized (in writing) by the PRM (Person Responsible for Maintenance aka the Maintenance Manager). So it is therefore not appropriate to simply direct your airworthiness concerns to just any “maintenance person” unless it is the intention of that person to deliver the message to a delegated authority (ACA). Company ACA’s are listed in the MPM (Maintenance Policy Manual) which governs the maintenance side of the operation. The BFC has both the MCM and MPM contained in the same binder for easy reference to both certificates.
Recurring defects are determined when the same defect has been reported at least three times within fifteen flight segments and the applied rectifications have not been successful. When applying effective troubleshooting procedures, we don’t usually see recurring defects but some issues are more difficult to resolve and require multiple approaches towards a resolution. A recurring defect label simply demands that the maintenance team perform a more thorough analysis of the elusive issue to help determine the actual root cause. Recurring defect status will be determined by the assessing ACA when reviewing the journey log after a defect entry.
Abnormal occurrences are also determined by the ACA according to the details provided by the pilot and the inspection criteria contained within Standard 625, Appendix G. This would include self-reporting of a hard landing or over-speed condition with flaps extended. Both of these conditions would require a more extensive investigation of the aircraft since the defect could potentially compromise the structural integrity of the aircraft.
The best way to better understand the defect reporting process is to remain vigilant with pre-flight inspections, in-flight observations, and even post-flight activities. Continue to practice what you have learned and ask good questions. When in doubt, always refer to the company MCM for the proper procedures for a given situation. Question the company norms (undocumented short-cuts or bending the rules) that seem inconsistent with what you have already learned. Preparing for the unexpected is a common theme during flight training and it should also be considered when preparing for the flight as well for when things don’t go according to plan possibly due to weather or discovering a defect on your aircraft. There is a well-used aviation safety quote that reminds us, “It is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than being in the air and wishing you were on the ground”.