November 2009 Issue

Is It Airworthy?

Airworthiness may be in the eye of the beholder, but the FAA has a well-defined regulatory framework for determining it.

The question comes up time and again in the FBOís pilot lounge and on aviation-related forums: Does a known fault make an airplane unairworthy? Time and again when faced with this question, I hear the response, "TOMATO FLAMES" for an aircraft in VFR-day conditions, a mnemonic referring to the items required under FAR 91.205 for day VFR. This is part of the answer, but it is neither the beginning nor the end of determining the airworthiness of an aircraft with a known fault. Instead of a simple, "one-size-fits-all" answer, exploring existing regulations, legal decisions and legal interpretations should guide a pilot or owner in determining whether or not an aircraft with known faults is airworthy. First, letís define "airworthy." Somewhat surprisingly, "airworthy" isnít defined by the FAA, at least not in FAR Part 1, Definitions and Abbreviations. In 1994, Congress took it upon itself to describe an "airworthiness certificate" as something the FAA Administrator shall issue when he or she "finds that the aircraft conforms to its type certificate and, after inspection, is in condition for safe operation." Very little additional guidance is available from the 350-plus pages of FAA Advisory Circular AC 8130.2F, Airworthiness Certification of Aircraft and Related Products. When attempting to define "airworthy," the AC basically reaffirms what Congress said.

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