All aircraft, big and small, must be serviced regularly, according to the specifications provided by the manufacturer. But there are different types of service and maintenance checks, and also different ways that service is scheduled.
Additionally, all planes should be regularly inspected before each flight.
While individual manufacturer requirements do differ, light planes generally need an annual inspection to check the condition of the plane, as well as service maintenance after a specified number of flying hours.
Service and Maintenance Checks
It should be obvious, but the more you fly your plane, the more frequently you will need to have it serviced. This is why manufacturers commonly specify flight hours rather than timeframes for service and maintenance checks. So, for instance, an annual condition check carried out to ensure that the plane conforms to the airworthiness “type” certificate issued when it was originally inspected after manufacture might be required more frequently (perhaps every 100 hours) if the plane is used often, or for commercial purposes. For this check, all access plates are normally removed, and everything that can possibly be checked, is checked, including retractable landing gear and related mechanisms, as well as engine compression.
More frequent maintenance service checks would include checking of critical bolts including those that connect the propeller to the engine, as well as replacement of engine oil. Oil changes could be required as frequently as every 25 hours flying time.
Aircraft tires, like those used for automobiles, must be replaced when the rubber tread begins to wear. Generally this will be determined by the friction caused between the tires and airfield surface, which in turn will be directly affected by the number of landings made in the plane.
Visual Aircraft Inspections
All light aircraft should be inspected visually before each flight. Typically the pilot or co-pilot will check fuel levels, engine oil level, cable connections and internal parts, and generally look out for any damage that might have occurred. It is always good to check the area below where the plane has been parked to make sure there isn’t evidence of leaking fluids.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Requirements for Airworthiness
While FAA maintenance checks are more stringent for airlines carrying passengers, as well as commercial planes, and military aircraft, the types of checks followed provide additional insight into how often aircraft should be serviced. These do not preclude the checks and inspections required by the manufacturer.
FAA checks are commonly referred to as A, B, C and D checks, D being the most comprehensive.
A checks are done after 125 flight hours, depending on the type of aircraft and aircraft cycle of takeoff and landing, and take between 20 and 50 man hours to complete. A checks on airliners are usually performed at the airport gate, overnight.
B checks are performed, on average, every six months. They take between 120 and 150 man hours to complete, and are usually executed in the aircraft hangar.
C checks are commonly performed every two years, or according to the flight hours defined by the manufacturer of the aircraft. This is an extensive check and involves the inspection of most of the aircraft components. It can take one to two weeks to complete, and as many as 6,000 man hours. These checks are generally performed in hangars located at a dedicated maintenance base.
D checks are comprehensive and sometimes referred to as a “heavy maintenance visit.” They are done every six years or so and involve thorough inspection and a complete overhaul. They can take as many as 50,000 man-hours over a period of two months to complete. Because these checks are so expensive, many airlines prefer to phase their craft out instead.
Where to Go to Service Your Aircraft or Buy Parts
While many service centers specialize in maintaining specific types of aircraft, there are also companies that specialize in the repair, supply and overhaul of a wider range of fixed-wing planes. Some, like Prime Industries, also supply quality parts and components for a wide range of rotary and fixed-wing aircraft.