I like to joke about aspiring to be a high maintenance female. Expensive, yes, but also fun, at least in my imagination. But I have no aspiration – none! – to have a high maintenance airplane. Expensive, definitely, and not just in my imagination. Therein lies a tale or two.
Time with the Trauma Team
For many years, my flying club’s 1967 Cessna Skylane was mostly a low maintenance airplane, in the best sense of the term. We sent her to the FBO’s maintenance shop for routine work (e.g., oil change) and periodic minor repairs. But then came disaster. The “big event” that most of us vividly remember occurred way back in the summer of ’06, when one of our pilots had an unfortunate nocturnal landing encounter with a member of Bambi’s tribe. The dastardly deer’s decision to amble in the vicinity of the runway made a shambles of the Skylane‘s horizontal tail. The damage rendered our poor airplane incapable of flight and urgently in need of a trip to the airplane equivalent of a major hospital trauma center.
I will never forget watching in horrified fascination (or was it fascinated horror?) as AMTs from that facility expertly removed first the fuel, followed by struts, wings, and horizontal tail. They fastened the fuselage to a crane. Then a fellow with a video-game-style joystick expertly jockeyed our stripped-down flightless bird onto the back of his flatbed trailer “ambulance.” I still have the video I made to document the disassembly, and I’ll always have the memory of watching it hauled out of sight.
After major surgery (replacement of several fuselage ribs and stringers along with the horizontal stabilizer and new rudder skin), some intensive care recovery time, and finally cosmetic repairs (a very spiffy new paint job), the Skylane was back in service and better than ever. I was – still am – incredibly grateful to the skilled AMTs who made my airplane whole again. I am also grateful for the insurance policy that covered the lion’s share of this hugely expensive repair. As it happens, catastrophic injury intensive care for airplanes carries the same kind of sticker shock as intensive care for humans.
The Annus Horribilis
For about seven years after the Skylane’s major repair, we blithely cruised along with the bird requiring little more than routine feather-fluffing maintenance and occasional minor repairs.
Then came 2013.
January required the repair of a frozen roller flap. The “routine” annual inspection in February dragged into March, with a number of repairs (carburetor, ignition switch, induction crossover tube, etc.) and a much-needed but pricey refurbishment of the GNS 430. June brought the need to fix a mixture cable clamp and troubleshoot a persistent manifold pressure leak. August demanded repair of the tail and beacon light assemblies. October’s expense was repair of a fuel bladder leak, and November’s list included repair of the rudder trim bungee assembly, a fuel gauge repair, and replacement of both fuel cap gaskets. We finished the year with an expense for cylinder compression checks. And, in case you were wondering, by that time we had written maintenance and repair checks totaling close to $15,000. Ouch.
At this writing, the Skylane – like my boss’s Cherokee – is undergoing its 2014 annual inspection. Here’s hoping that both our birds emerge with squawk-free annuals, and fingers crossed that 2014 will be a maintenance annus mirabilis. (FAA Safety Briefing – MayJun 2014)