When you walk into a flight school or FBO with the intent to rent one of their aircraft, do you ask to review the logbooks for the airplane in question? It’s amazing how many pilots don’t do this, despite the fact that the pilot in command—which would be you—is responsible for the airworthiness of the aircraft. This begins with the required maintenance inspections which are recorded in the aircraft’s logbooks.
Recently, one of my former learners shared a story about an experience he had when he asked to see the logbooks of a particular flight school. He had just moved to the area and was looking for a place to rent. When he asked to see the maintenance logbooks at a particular school, he was met with suspicion, and was told that it wasn’t allowed.
(Insert Scooby Doo confusion noise here) Really? The learner, who held a private pilot certificate, asked the desk attendant how their clients went about their check rides if they were not allowed to review the logbooks, because they had to prove to the designated pilot examiner (DPE) that the aircraft had all its required inspections and was airworthy. That can only be done with the logbooks.
The desk attendant became very defensive, saying they did not allow anyone who was not from the IRS to look at the books. That’s when the lightbulb went on—the attendant was new to the job. She didn’t know anything about airplane maintenance logbooks; she thought he was asking for the financial records for the business. Learning took place, and the situation was diffused. The learner was able to review the airplane’s logbooks.
How Important Are Aircraft Logbooks?
Aircraft logbooks are very much like the deed to a house or the title to a car. The status of the airplane—and any repairs and modifications—will be recorded in the logbooks. They will tell you a lot about how well the aircraft was and is cared for.
When there are gaps in required inspections—such as the airplane being out of annual for more than a year—this is a red flag. Airplanes that are not routinely cared for can develop big mechanical problems: hoses rot, insects and animals can nest in the empennage and engine compartment, gaskets and seals can degrade, and oil and fuel leaks happen.
The aircraft logbooks are required equipment for the check ride. The applicant and the DPE will go over the logbooks together to determine if the aircraft’s inspections are up to date. If a required inspection is missing or out of date it can cost an applicant their check ride because the aircraft is not airworthy.
The aircraft should have multiple maintenance logbooks—there should be one dedicated to the airframe, one for the powerplant and propeller, and a book for the airworthiness directives. There is often a separate logbook for supplemental type certificates, if any apply to the airplane. Depending on the age of the aircraft, there may be multiple logbooks for each item. The most recent information is found in the back of the books, so the books are read back to front. They are often stored in waterproof pouches or Ziploc-style bags with the aircraft’s tail number emblazoned on them.
Where Should Logbooks Be Kept?
Do not store the logbooks in the back of the airplane. I have to stress this, because I flew with an aircraft owner who did this—he thought nothing of it, saying the maintenance logbooks weren’t that valuable to anyone but the pilot flying the airplane. He said that most non-pilots wouldn’t find them valuable so they wouldn’t try to steal them. I agreed with him on that part; however, if someone sees a bag in the back of an aircraft, they might be thinking it’s headsets, a laptop computer, etc., which does have street value. The thief wouldn’t know that until they broke into the airplane. The logbooks would likely get tossed in the dumpster. They might also get lost in an incident or accident—though they are often required for review in the event one occurs.
It is recommended that the aircraft logbooks be kept in a secure location—like a safe or file cabinet in an office that can be locked. Missing logbooks or pages can devalue the airplane by thousands of dollars. Who is going to spend big money on an aircraft that they know nothing about? It would be like buying a home without checking on the local property taxes—you can set yourself up for an expensive bill down the road when you find out the aircraft has a slew of mechanical issues that were not taken care of promptly.
It’s frightening that some people get all the way through their training and don’t see the logbooks until the day of their check ride. If you are the check ride applicant, you should go through the logbooks at least once with your instructor and put Post-it notes on the required appropriate inspections so you can flip right to them during the check ride.
You can find what you need in the logbooks using the acronym A AVIATE. In broad strokes, it stands for:
- Airworthiness directives
- Annual inspection (FAR 91.409) or progressive inspection
- VOR (if installed and used for IFR flight, needs to be checked every 30 days per FAR 91.171, but usually that is another logbook or reliable record for the aircraft and does not require a mechanic’s signature)
- I (actually a “1”) for 100-hour inspection (FAR 91.409), if the aircraft is used for compensation or hire
- Altimeter for the pitot-static system every 24 months (FAR 91.411)
- Transponder for every 24 months (FAR 91.413)
- Emergency locator transmitter (ELT), every 12 months (FAR 91.207)
The details and items checked during inspections are listed under FAR Part 43. Sign-offs for inspections should be noted in the logbooks, to include: when the work was done, the details of the work, and the name and certificate number of the mechanic who performed the work.
Read the entries carefully—it is not uncommon for a mechanic to do other required inspections such as the transponder or pitot-static system at the same time they do the annual inspection. This should be noted in the sign-off for the annual.
Pre-buy Inspection Is a Must
Every airport has a story about the person who thought they were getting a great deal on an aircraft so they made the purchase without a pre-buy inspection of either the aircraft or the logbooks.
When they got the airplane to their home field, they discovered the cost for making the aircraft airworthy and bringing the logbooks up to date was significantly more than what they paid for the airplane. To prevent this, insist on a pre-buy inspection and a review of the maintenance logbooks before you put your money down.
This review should be done by a qualified A&P/IA, who is not the mechanic who has been maintaining the aircraft—fresh eyes pick up the discrepancies quicker than someone who is familiar with the airplane. In one case, the A&P/IA noted there were some pages missing from the logbooks, and the $600 buddy-assist annuals over the years failed to catch several items—including improper hardware installed in the aircraft. The entire mess resulted in a $25,000 repair bill for a $27,000 airplane.
Who Worked on the Airplane, and When?
If there has been an accident or incident, the FAA will want to review the maintenance logbooks, especially if there is suspicion of mechanical or structural failure. The FAA is looking for documentation of the work performed and the names and certificate numbers of the persons who performed the work. There have been accidents where improperly performed maintenance was a factor. Protect yourself—and the people you are flying with—by inspecting the logbooks carefully. You will be glad you did.