December 2008 Issue

Post-Maintenance Test Flights

Post-maintenance test flying can be risky. Leave your ego at home and triple-check that no details have been left to chance.

At some point during aircraft ownership, owners are faced with the prospect of a post-maintenance flight test with a technician or shop representative riding shotgun. Depending on the level of maintenance the shop performed on the aircraft, a lot can go astray—and we’re not just talking about in-flight emergencies (although the odds of one are higher after heavy maintenance). And even relatively simple owner-performed maintenance chores, like oil changes or brake-pad replacement, have been known to create airborne drama. Whenever an aircraft comes out of maintenance, some sort of test flight should be conducted with the idea of verifying the work performed. In fact and perhaps unsurprisingly, the FAA has a regulation covering post-maintenance test flights, FAR 91.407. Its applicability to a specific situation hinges on the extent to which, if any, work on the aircraft "appreciably changed its flight characteristics or substantially affected its operation." That’s a fairly broad definition, and one an owner should think about whenever some maintenance is planned. But that’s not all. Areas requiring consideration and planning for a post-maintenance test flight include piloting currency, insurance coverage, crew coordination and other FAA regulations, to name a few. For example, another regulation, FAR 91.305, states flight testing must be conducted over open water, or sparsely populated areas having light air traffic.

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