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CASA’s Advice on Maintenance Release Entries: Beware the Risks Arising!

, CommunityCASA’s Advice on Maintenance Release Entries: Beware the Risks Arising!

CASA’s Advice on Maintenance Release Entries: Beware the Risks Arising!

December 2, 2020 By Benjamin Morgan
Canberra Aero Club member Mr Clinton McKenzie provides an opinion.
Canberra Aero Club (CAC) member and erstwhile CAC Pilot Education Director, Clinton McKenzie, in his personal, private capacity, urges pilots not to follow some advice in CASA’s CAAP 43-01 v...

Canberra Aero Club (CAC) member and erstwhile CAC Pilot Education Director, Clinton McKenzie, in his personal, private capacity, urges pilots not to follow some advice in CASA’s CAAP 43-01 v 2.0 dated November 2018.    The advice was repeated in a relatively-recent CASA Flight Safety magazine edition.

CASA’s CAAP advises that: When a pilot, LAME or appropriate authorisation/authority holder assesses a defect as not being a major defect, an entry should be made in the Clearing endorsements column to the effect that the defect is not a major defect.

According to Clinton:

“So far as I am aware there’s no rule that says you can’t use the ‘clearing endorsements’ column of an MR to record your opinion that a defect or damage is not major.   But nor is there any rule that says you can’t write your weekly grocery shopping list in that column.   That doesn’t make either practice a ‘good idea’.

“The clearing endorsements column is there for clearing endorsements.   The clue is in the name.   A clearing endorsement describes what was done to rectify a defect or repair damage, or the ‘transfer’ of the entry to another Part of the MR for further action.  i.e. what someone did, not what someone thinks.   Any other writing in the ‘clearing endorsements’ column is apt to cause confusion, and potentially risky confusion at that.

A critically important concept for pilots to understand is that some ‘non-major’ defects or damage may still prevent the aircraft from being lawfully and safely engaged in certain operations.   For example, a randomly blown undercarriage position indicator light bulb is not, of itself, a major defect or major damage.    But it still prevents you from lawfully going for a flight in that aircraft (absent a PUS or SFP) and may be the source of unnecessary and potentially risky distractions.   As another example, a randomly blown landing light bulb is not, of itself, a major defect or major damage.   But it’s unlawful and risky to take off with your only landing light not working, in the dark or with an after-dark ETA for your destination.

“So:  Beware!    Even in cases in which someone has diligently followed CASA’s advice and recorded his or her opinion that each and every defect or item of damage entered on an MR is ‘non-major’, it does not follow that you may lawfully fly the aircraft.   It does not follow even if the damage or defect is effectively deemed ‘non-major’ as a consequence of the provision of advice referred to in CAR 47(1A), (1B) and (1C).   You must still assess the implications of each and every item entered as a defect or damage (or as required maintenance) on an MR, in the specific context of the flight you propose to undertake.  You must do that, even if each item is, in your or someone else’s opinion, ‘non-major’.

Clinton further suggests:

“Leave the ‘clearing endorsements’ column on an MR blank unless you are actually clearing a damage/defect or other entry.  Under the rules, a defect or damage will either be major or it won’t be.   Nothing you write on an MR in your capacity as pilot will change that.

“Review, very carefully, what’s been written by others in the ‘clearing endorsements’ column because, as a result of CASA’s advice, the writing may not be a clearing endorsement and, consequently, the aircraft will still have the corresponding defect or damage that you must take into consideration in deciding whether you are allowed to conduct your proposed flight.

“If you request advice about whether a defect or damage is ‘non-major’, as contemplated by CAR 47(1A), (1B) or (1C), clip a note of the advice you received to the MR.   That way it will be clear who is responsible for the decision about the ‘severity’ of the defect or damage and you won’t be causing confusion by writing stuff with no effect in the MR.

CASA’s advice also says:

“In the event that the defect or damage is major and the defective/damaged item is required for the intended flight, the aircraft must not be flown and the maintenance release ceases to be in force until the defect is rectified.    For the avoidance of doubt, an entry stating ‘this aircraft is not airworthy’ should be made adjacent to the defect endorsement.    The entry should be made by the assessing LAME or the holder of an appropriate authorisation/authority once it has been determined that the defect is a major defect.”

Clinton responds:

“It’s difficult to know where to start with the erroneous implications of that paragraph.   I’ll start with the riskiest bit for pilots.

“The applicable rules are the same as when I was taught to fly 30 plus years ago.  CARs 47 and 50 impose obligations on a range of people, including pilots, to do certain things about aircraft defects and damage.    A pilot’s obligation to record defects and damage – including major defects and major damage – and to endorse an MR with “aircraft unworthy” in some cases, does not depend on seeking advice from an expert – although of course, it is open to a pilot to do so and a prudent step if expert advice is available, and in some cases, the advice might result in damage or a defect being effectively deemed ‘non-major’ under the rules.

“In the case of major damage or major defects and “aircraft unairworthy” endorsements, CARs 47 and 50 do not say that entries “should be made” only by LAMEs or holders of maintenance authorisations or authorities.   If you become aware that an aircraft you are flying has suffered a defect or damage – whether or not major – and that defect or damage is never entered in the aircraft’s MR by anyone, you the pilot have committed an offence.   

“Contrary to the implications of CASA’s advice, an MR does not automatically cease to be in force just because the aircraft suffers major damage or a major defect.    Little words like “and” and “or” in rules have big effects.   What actually happens is that a range of people, including the pilot, automatically come under an obligation to (1) enter the damage or defect in the MR, and (2) endorse the MR as “aircraft unairworthy” only if – repeat only if – there is a likelihood that the aircraft will be flown before the damage has been repaired or the defect rectified.   Unless and until that “aircraft unairworthy” endorsement is made or something else happens that brings the MR to an end, the MR continues in force.

“So note:   If and when an obligation to endorse an MR with “aircraft unairworthy” arises, it is not done “for the avoidance of doubt” as stated in CASA’s advice.   It is done for the avoidance of criminal liability and loss of licence for failure to comply with the rules.   Further, that obligation falls upon, among other persons, the pilot.   Again, if that endorsement was required to be made in relation to a defect or damage of which you the pilot were aware and the endorsement is never made by anyone in the MR, you the pilot have committed an offence.   Don’t assume ‘somebody else’ is going to make required endorsements.   Watch them do it, or do it yourself.

“A chronic source of confusion arises from the intuitive belief of some that an MR ‘should’ automatically cease to be in force as soon as an aircraft suffers a major defect or major damage.   It does not make intuitive sense to them that the MR only has to be endorsed “aircraft unairworthy” if it is likely to be flown again, and that the MR only ceases to be in force if and when that endorsement is made.    But a moment’s reflection on operational reality reveals why the MR remains in force unless and until the “aircraft unairworthy” endorsement is made (or e.g. the MR expires as normal).

“First, if the MR automatically ceased to be in force as soon as an aircraft suffered major damage or a major defect – e.g. a bird strike that puts a big ‘ding’ in the leading edge and bends the ribs inside a wing, or the engine suffers a cracked cylinder and consequential damage – the pilot would from then on be flying an aircraft without an MR that is in force.   There’ll probably be at least one offence, somewhere in the rules, for doing that.  But the pilot has little choice but to continue to fly the aircraft until the (hopefully safe) completion of the flight.

“Secondly, an aircraft that suffers a major defect or major damage might be unlikely to be flown again, simply as a consequence of the laws of physics.   For example, an aircraft that loses a wing and suffers bent and buckled propellor blades during a forced landing has suffered major damage.  Good luck flying it again before that damage has been repaired.   I’ve yet to see a successful attempt at breaking the laws of physics.

“You can state the obvious in the MR – that the aircraft is unairworthy – but it achieves nothing in this example.   The aircraft’s flying nowhere in a hurry.  All you are required to do so far as the MR is concerned in this example is to enter the damage on the MR.  (Best to call the ATSB, too.)  The MR will likely expire long before the damage is repaired anyway.  The LAME tasked with fixing the example aircraft is going to have to do a lot more than merely fit a new wing and new propellor blades.

“As another example, nobody else flies my aircraft.   If it suffers major damage and I keep it locked in my hangar until the damage is properly repaired, I am not obliged to put an “aircraft unairworthy” endorsement against the “Windscreen smashed due bird strike” entry in the MR.

“In any event, and unsurprisingly, you’re not allowed fly an aircraft with a ‘current’ MR that has the entries like “Left wing broken off during forced landing” or “Both propeller blades bent and buckled due to ground strikes during forced landing” or “Windscreen smashed due bird strike”, unless actual clearing endorsements appear against those entries.    Exactly the same concept applies to entries of major damage and major defects that are not as physically obvious as these stark examples.   That’s precisely why it’s a good idea and you’re required to review MRs and conduct pre-flight inspections before committing aviation.  

Clinton concludes by expressing the kind of frustration felt by many in GA these days:

“It is extraordinarily frustrating to reflect on the fact that the chronic confusion around the proper use and interpretation of maintenance releases is being contributed to by erroneous CASA advice, based on 1988 regulations that we were promised would be gone and superseded over two decades ago.   It is particularly concerning that the confusion may result in increased risks to safety, through pilots believing that some writing in the ‘clearing endorsements’ column of an MR means it is safe to fly the aircraft with the corresponding defect or damage.

“Regards and safe flying.

Benjamin Morgan

Executive Director - Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) of Australia

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