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Airworthiness Issues for the Pilot in Command

Airworthiness Issues for the Pilot in Command

14 CFR 91.7 prohibits any person from operating an aircraft that is not in an airworthy condition. What is unclear is the definition of "airworthy" and who is responsible for determining airworthiness. An aircraft that is "flyable" is not necessarily "airworthy." Many aircraft owners might be surprised to find multiple violations for flying an aircraft that is not airworthy.

Although a search through the Code of Federal Regulations for the definition of "airworthy" would prove fruitless, a definition has been derived through National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) decisions and FAA chief counsel interpretations.

These entities have said that an aircraft, to be airworthy, "(1) must conform to its type certificate, if and as that certificate has been modified by supplemental type certificates and by Airworthiness Directives; and (2) must be in condition for safe operation."

With this definition in mind, it is important to understand who is responsible for determining the airworthiness of the aircraft prior to flight. Two regulations are pertinent to this discussion: (1) 14 CFR 91.7, civil aircraft airworthiness, and (2) 14 CFR 91.407, operation after maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, or alteration.

14 CFR 91.7 states, "No person may operate a civil aircraft unless it is in an airworthy condition." Here the FAA is very clear in its intent that only airworthy aircraft should be operated. The regulation places responsibility on the pilot in command by stating, "The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight. The pilot in command shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur."

It is important to note that the responsibility for determining airworthiness does not stop here. 14 CFR 91.407 places additional responsibility on the operator by stating, "No person may operate an aircraft that has undergone maintenance, preventative maintenance, rebuilding, or alteration unless: (1) It has been approved for return to service by a person authorized under 43.7 of this chapter; and (2) The maintenance record entry required by 43.9 or 43.11, as applicable, of this chapter has been made." Most owners and operators rely on maintenance facilities to perform required inspections and repairs along with ensuring all airworthiness directives, maintenance, and inspections are logged and signed off properly. Many owners and operators do not check for proper endorsements, which approve the aircraft for return to service and state that the aircraft is airworthy if a 100-hour or annual inspection was performed.

The condition of the aircraft is important but not the only factor in determining airworthiness. If you are an aircraft owner or operator, remember to review the logbooks after the aircraft is returned from maintenance. Ensure that the proper inspections, repairs, and airworthiness directives are completed and logged, and the logbooks contain a statement approving the aircraft for return to service.

August 12, 2008