Many clubs in the north of the nation and those operating at high elevations have little choice but to do some degree of winterization of the airplanes. This could range from: fitting blanking plates over part of the oil cooler and perhaps the coolant radiator (think Rotax), to partially and even completely hibernating the plane, involving engine preservation oil, jacking up the plane to avoid cold-induced stress on the tires...and more. If the plane is not going to be used for an extended period of time, it is also a good idea to lube all hinges, rose joints (rod ends), and to grease the nose/tail wheel and anywhere else there are grease fittings. Use a battery conditioner (not your auto battery charger) to ensure the battery stays healthy and well-conditioned during the long sleep.
Covering the airplane with dust sheets will help it stay clean, even in a nice warm hangar, but do your research carefully if you are thinking about leaving an engine heater on for the duration. The internet has lots of good—and not so good—advice on this topic, so choose your facts wisely.
So, we see there will be some awakening maintenance that will have to be performed prior to the first flight of spring. Even if the club’s pride and joy has been somewhat active during the winter, it is still a good idea to prep the plane for the ensuing rush of reservations and flights.
Now that you are in a spring cleaning frame of mind, it is a good time to review your club’s rules. Bylaws get inflated and unwieldy over time, and operational requirements change as members and planes come and go, so what worked 20-years ago—and even last year—may now be woefully out of date.
The same is probably true for members and their proficiency. Due to inclement weather, shorter days, cold and so on, many members may not have flown much during the dark days of winter, so it makes sense to design some sort of “welcome back” training to get everyone up to in a flying frame of mind.
Let’s take these one-by-one: planes, members and rules:
The obvious pieces of equipment to consider first are the airplanes themselves. The following suggestions are just that—suggestions—and are in no way exhaustive, and in no way replace or reset other inspections, such as annual, 100-hour, etc. Think of this as a really in-depth pre-flight inspection because that is exactly what it is. If you are not comfortable with doing this yourself, get your local A&P involved, but shadow them, so you’ll know more for next time.Most clubs will do a wash and wax, which is a good time to get club members together and it helps protects the airframe. Another advantage of doing this is that you get up-close and personnel with the airplane, so giving the opportunity of looking at every square inch for new nicks and other damage that may need addressing.
If the plane was winterized, then reverse the process. Even if it wasn’t fully hibernated it is a good time to do an oil change, as the plane has likely been sitting more than usual. I change my Bat’s oil every 40-hours or three months, whichever comes first, which is important for an O-235 to avoid condensation-induced corrosion, especially spalling (micro-pitting) of the cam lobes. Read the service manuals for your plane’s engine and the applicable service bulletins from the engine manufacturers to get the details. Guru Mike Busch’s articles on oil, oil changes, etc. are also worth re-reading—search the AOPA and EAA websites, as well as Savvy Aviation. Another good reason to change the oil even if it isn’t actually time, is to establish a baseline for the coming year. Send an oil sample to your favorite analysis lab to get a picture of the present, but also as the starting point for the coming year. Of course, always change the oil filter and cut open the old one to look for particles. If you find “metal” in the filter, refer to the engine manufacturer’s service bulletins for next steps. Don’t forget to inspect the oil screen (different than the oil filter) and reinstall it using a new crush washer. Safety wire everything that could move but shouldn’t…so that it doesn’t.
While you are at it, you might as well pop-out the spark plugs and give them a clean. Again, getting a good starting point for the year. As always when the plugs are out, use your borescope to inspect the valves, piston crowns and cylinder bore surfaces. Take photos, labeling them with what and when, to establish a baseline and to help diagnose any issues in the future. Use the recommended anti-seize compound, replace the copper gaskets, and tighten to the correct torque.
Many club management tools (such as Flight Circle), allow you to set maintenance reminders, so create new ones and update existing ones appropriately. This should also include oil changes, time-based recurrent ADs, IFR/VFR inspections, database updates, and so on.
When the oil is draining, it is a good time to inspect the airframe for pets, infestations, and other visitors. Use a bright light and an inspection mirror as they like to hide! Look for telltale signs such as droppings and nesting materials. Next (especially after the wash and wax) get out your lube and squirt away on hinges, elevator/rudder bearings, rod ends, etc. Grease up the flap runners and nose/tail wheels. Of course, follow the instructions in the aircraft’s service manual and use the recommended lubricants. I find LPS-2 to be a really good general-purpose lubricant and I use a squeeze bottle (like a safety-wash bottle) and syringes to control application, especially in tight situations.
Change all filters. Obviously, the oil filter when doing the oil change, but also air filters. Wait, you cry, we did that at the annual at the start of the summer. Yeah, exactly my point! If you still use vacuum air-based gyros, then change the two filters under the panel…this is really cheap preventative maintenance.
With the cowlings off, use a “black light” (UV light) to careful inspect all around the engine. Oil leaks will bloom-up as white areas under this type of light. If you find any leaks, understand and/or fix them…they won’t get less over time. Whilst you are at it, check all hoses, baffles and so on. Be especially vigilant for chafing—things rubbing over other things. Fix this with clips or by using a buffer material between the surfaces. Be careful when using standard zip-ties as the serrated surfaces can do more harm than good.
Then do a detailed walk around, checking lights (critters love to chew on wiring), orifices (pitot, static, air inlets, vents, etc.) and don’t forget to check the tyres (yeah...go on…I dare you…) for wear and inflation. Aircraft tyres have very little volume, so even small temperature changes will result in swings in pressure. Using nitrogen will help reduce the temperature-induced pressure variations. When you are poking at the tyres, use a flashlight to inspect the brake pads. Many have notches that indicate wear limits. If they are getting close, schedule replacement as I guarantee that they will not get better over time! As with all pre-flights, feel under the calipers and especially around the brake line fittings for leaks. Again, things like this do not get better over time, so to avoid downtime during the busy season, gets this type of maintenance done as soon as possible.
Now, clubs often have additional equipment that is about to become heavily used. Don’t forget to service the tugs (gas and electrically powered all have moving parts), grease-up the hangar doors (the lessor is usually responsible for this, but best to check), look for frayed cables, and so on. If it squeaks, it needs grease!
If the club does some of its own maintenance under Part 43, now is a good time to check the calibration of tools such as torque wrenches, various gauges that you may use, etc. Yes—even if you are not an A&P, you are expected to use tools and methods that conform to the standards...remind yourself of this by curling-up with this article and AC 43.13-1B. Chat with your local A&P to find a good calibration lab near you.
Prepping the planes for the flying season is fairly straightforward as they don’t have opinions. Not so with members! When thinking about an early spring safety program, be careful not to “mandate” too much. Pilots, being pilots, will generally understand the need for ongoing proficiency training, but even so, many still moan about “having to do” a flight review. I personally view the flight review as gift #1 from the FAA it forces us to fly with a CFI at least once every 24 calendar months, but even then, there is the “legal vs. safe” debate to consider. Even better is gift #2 from the FAA—the GA pilot proficiency program known as WINGS. More on this later.
I’ve written previously about the fine line between a club sincerely wanting to keep its members safe, and the precipice of mandating various requirements. Currency is always the responsibility of the PIC, and a club should never, ever, take on any obligation or responsibility for this. Now, it is perfectly reasonable to use the features of your club management tool to remind members about their currency dates…medical, flight review, IPC, passenger and night currency, etc., and you could even prevent reservations if these dates are exceeded. The club must never, however, mandate (in the bylaws or elsewhere) that members have to do annual flight reviews or fly with a CFI every 90-days, or anything else that second-guesses the FARs and/or removes full responsibility from each PIC. This advice comes straight from the AOPA legal team and is all to do with potential liability if a club mandates something but then doesn’t have systems in place to enforce it—and something bad happens. Now, the one time you might have to do this is if it is a condition of insurance, but even then, ensure that the bylaws clearly state that this is the case and that every member when acting as PIC is personally responsible for compliance.
Notwithstanding the above, it certainly makes good sense for a club to have a clearly defined safety culture and to suggest some actions for all club members to stay proficient. In my book, if pilots fly enough to be proficient, then they should be flying enough to remain current according to the regulations. I see absolutely no reason for any club to invent its own pilot proficiency program, as the FAA (yes, that FAA) has done it for us. My advice is to encourage (rather than mandate) every member to have an faasafety.gov account, and to take at least one knowledge activity that offers WINGS credit, and also to fly with a CFI, at least once per quarter. The knowledge activities could be FAA or ASI courses, quizzes, seminars or webinars, and the flying activities should use the lesson plans and worksheets found on faasafety.gov. The FAASTeam has also done most of the work for us by providing Topic of the Month suggestions. Have your safety officer check out these resources and by the way, encourage the safety office, and other members for that matter, to become FAASTeam safety representatives—more information here, here, and here. If you would like to find out more about the WINGS program, contact the FAASTeam Program Manager (FPM) at your local FSDO. Use this form to find their contact info, or send me an email with a number for me to call you back—[email protected]
Whatever your safety program and system, start the year off right with a focused safety review. You could have this as part of the first social event of the year (safety is a social activity) and include topics such as a reminder of club procedures, plans for the coming year, and a review of airport and other local procedures. Keep it interesting by inviting a couple of guest speakers, for example, the airport manager, local ATC, your A&P and so on. With great speakers comes great responsibility, so take a re-peek at the April 2022 Question of the Month: How can we identify some good guest speakers for our club meetings?
Okay, moving on…
You buy a brand-new house and just love it. As part of the purchase process, you receive a set of the CC&Rs—the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions of the Homeowner’s Association (HOA) and you sign to attest that you have read them and will abide by them. These CC&Rs determine what you can and cannot do on your property to ensure a nice neighborhood and to set some mutually acceptable limits and rules. Things like the type (and storage) of garbage bins, any setbacks from the neighbor’s property line for fences, sheds, etc., external color scheme, and the storage (or not) of recreational vehicles on your property. Anyway…as the neighborhood is new, every homeowner is current on the regulations, non-compliance stands out like a sore thumb, and life is harmonious.
Now, depending on the enthusiasm and energy of the HOA and particularly the Architectural Review Committee (ARC)—who should be reviewing, amongst other things, requests to add sheds, and who should be “enforcing” the rules—the neighborhood may stay true to the original CC&Rs…or it may not. Over time, houses sell, and new neighbors arrive, perhaps giving just cursory looks at the CC&Rs. Why shouldn’t I park my motor home on my property? It is my property after all, and anyway, the guy down the road does it, so why shouldn’t I? Unless the ARC is continually vigilant and active—and takes an interest in updating the rules for modern times—adherence will inevitably erode over time, perhaps to the point where the CC&Rs are woefully out of date or become unenforceable by the shear scale of public opinion.
As time goes by, people move in and out of the neighborhood, but the big changes tend to be generational—the original owners age and leave, and so there is a flurry of new owners every 30-years or so. Even though the houses are the same ones, the owners have changed, so...should the original CC&Rs apply to these owners? Has the neighborhood and “the times” changed to make the old rules outmoded and, well, unenforceable—even if the ARC is still in operation?
Okay…I’m sure you see where I’m going with this!
I’ve written elsewhere that flying clubs are like neighborhoods. They have life cycles and involve people from many different backgrounds, opinions and tolerance to rules. The club should have a set of bylaws that establish the modus operandi of the club—its structure, governance, and member responsibilities. There should also be a set of operation rules. See the October 2017 Question of the Month: What is the difference between Bylaws and Operating Rules? and the following-on article all about operational rules, in the November 2017 Question of the Month.
Just like with a neighborhood, times change, and people change, but also in flying clubs, the equipment—the planes—may also change, as may the operating environment…airport size, airspace and so on. What worked for the original members may well just be quaintly interesting for the club of today, and human nature is to ignore things that “clearly” do not apply to the club of today.
So, you see the trap here. If rules do not make sense, then people ignore them and then there is little that can be done to maintain standards and good practices—anarchy prevails. Okay, this is a bit dramatic, but the point is that rules have to make sense in order for people to (want to) follow them.
As you all know, Drew and I interact with clubs on a daily basis—about 50-percent working with new clubs and 50-percent helping existing clubs. Of those existing clubs, I’d guess that about 70-percent have no idea when the bylaws and operational rules were last reviewed and amended.Don’t think of this as a problem, but as an opportunity!
Gather a small cross-section of members (not more than seven and always have an odd number)—young and not so, newbies and oldbies, officers and general members, and yes, even old George the club historian who can add background to some of the odd and very specific rules that were apparently so important back in the day.
In my experience, bylaws and operational rules get bloated over the years, as it is easier to add rather than reword. Also, the distinction between the two documents gets blurred as things are added to the bylaws rather than the operations manual, and vice-versa. Do a line-by-line review and ask: Why is this rule/statement here, is it in the right place, and does it still apply today’s club? This actually doesn’t take very long…and even the rewrite can go quite smoothly as long as you don’t try involve the whole club with every nuance. My advice is to amend the documents with input from the committee, and then take the draft version(s) to the club as a whole. Yes, there will be some discussion, possibly heated, but this is just the democratic process in action, and just keep pushing for agreement. Give a bit and take a bit!
Next, have every member renew their vows. Whenever documents change and become the new standard, have every member sign that they have read, understood, and will abide by the new rules and procedures. Without this, enforcement will be impossible. Finally, make it clear everyone is equally bound by the new rules and procedures. No exceptions.
How often should a club go through this process? Well, I think there are two parts to this…rather like an ATIS. Firstly, a review of documents should occur whenever there is a significant change. For example, adding aircraft (particularly if very different from the existing fleet), changes with the operational environment, and so on. Secondly, even if there an no significant changes, a review should be conducted on a reasonable cadence—we suggest every two years. The more often you do it, the less needs to be changed and the more that members will be retain their understanding.
Late news: I just came across this FAA workshop. It is quite long (just short of three hours), but well worth the investment in time: The FAA's From the Flight Deck LIVE Spring Training Workshop.
If you love this so much that you would like to view last year workshop, well, you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHRGOE9EG00
Now that the planes have emerged from hibernation and have had thorough pre-season inspections and maintenance, they are ready for the rush of spring flying. So too are the members having been topped-up with relevant safety information and they are all following the WINGS GA Pilot Proficiency Program. Also, the club is equipped with a set of modern bylaws and operational rules that everyone is comfortable with and have (re)agreed to follow.
This sounds like the recipe for a successful season. Off you go, then!
As always, fly lots and fly safely!