Detailed physical survey of an aircraft’s technical status, records and modification state is essential.
When acquiring any aircraft, whatever the aircraft’s age, it is important to carefully evaluate the precise history and status of the machine through pre-purchase inspection of the aircraft and its records back to birth. This may be performed by the manufacturer, a major service centre or an independent engineer with no vested interest.
Even a new aircraft requires thorough inspection at various stages in the production process. Some buyers like to have a technical representative on-site for much of the process, particularly during the outfitting and completion stage. Most new aircraft have production defects, repairs and concessions during build and numerous faults at the time of being tendered for delivery. Quality is impaired in many cases, whether visible or not at this time. It is therefore particularly important to have knowledgeable technicians involved in an acceptance, not just an operating crew who are unlikely to have sufficient exposure. Serious negotiation at this phase routinely proves invaluable in ensuring contract requirements are meticulously met and that the aircraft purchased reflects the best of its model on entry-into-service, throughout its operation with a new owner, and upon eventual resale.
In the case of a preowned aircraft, a detailed records review will show how and where the aircraft has been operated since new. Certain trends may be identifiable and justify further investigation. Any damage and repairs will be identified and investigated. Compliance with mandatory airworthiness directives, required inspections and recommended service bulletins will be established. Key component records will be examined carefully to verify original source, traceability back to birth, and establish service life remaining. Records must be complete, back to birth, and, ideally, be in English.
Options taken up during manufacture and subsequent modification or repair can result in a large number of possible permutations in individual aircraft specification, range, weight, certification status and value. Build year and entry-into-service year may be different. An aircraft may have been damaged and repaired during manufacture. Interiors may impact certification, weight and balance, useful fuel capacity and may impact the aircraft’s ability to meet brochure performance. Woodwork repairs, invisible to the naked eye, may only be picked up under ultra-violet light.
A pre-purchase inspection will include consideration of the above, in addition to a full systems check, verifying that all systems are operating correctly, a borescope inspection of engines and APU looking at blade condition, and repairs and replacements effected during the aircraft’s life. Particular focus will be on the oft-used practise of replacing sometimes major parts in lieu of an otherwise documented repair detracting from value. A flight test will validate the aircraft’s serviceability, while close attention will also be paid to the operation of cabin fittings, entertainment system, drawers and doors in flight conditions.
The selected engineer or organisation inspecting and reporting on the condition of the subject aircraft will be independent of the seller and conduct of previous maintenance, highly knowledgeable and experienced with the aircraft model being inspected, also considering the rules and standards applicable in buyer’s state of registration. The pre-purchase inspection does not need to be performed by the manufacturer, independence being particularly important.
A survey may thus result in a recommendation to walk away from a particular aeroplane, sometimes even several, before the right aircraft is viewed or accepted.