Years ago, a friend of mine got a $120,000 bill for maintenance – double of what he was expecting – and he faxed it to me. First off, I saw eight items that required the aircraft to be on jacks for proper compliance. The shop had charged him labor to jack and unjack the aircraft eight times. That was just the beginning! I went with him to the shop and examined their invoice line by line. In the end it was whittled down to around $80,000. Sometimes you need someone in your corner.
In a scheduled maintenance visit, it is common to have several inspection checklists being done simultaneously. Some tasks appear on multiple checklists. When overlap occurs I always signed it off wherever it appeared, but I only performed the task one time and charged the customer accordingly. The classic task overlap example is with the engines in a Phase 1-4. Each phase checklist calls out the same engine inspection. Each engine gets one inspection using one set of O-rings and one filter, but all four phases get signed off. That’s just commonsense.
The 2,500-Cycle Inspection
Late in 2017, Beechcraft (Textron Aviation) added two new inspections to the laundry list of required maintenance items for King Airs. The 2,500-cycle inspection was one of them. This is a rather involved inspection covering the cabin and includes things like wall structure, stringers, ducting, the oxygen system, pulley brackets and more. The interior must be removed for access, and this alone is very labor intensive. When this inspection was first issued, all King Air models with 2,500 cycles or more had to comply.
The deadline was unforgiving and because the interior has to be removed and reinstalled afterward, the timeframe was a problem. Shops and King Air owners scrambled to get it done in a timely fashion.
However, there are plenty of King Airs out there with less than 2,500 cycles, and if yours is among them, I strongly suggest you look at your upcoming maintenance schedule and have this done concurrent with a Phase 3. Many tasks on the 2,500-cycle inspection are also stipulated on the Phase 3 checklist. Even if you get the 2,500-cycle a little early, you’ll save a bundle by consolidating these two actions because the interior has to come out for a Phase 3 as well.
When reviewing your invoice, make sure you are not being charged twice for the same task. You might ask for a copy of the two checklists. In the Phase 3, Section E covers the Pilot’s Compartment and Section F covers the Cabin section. Many of the tasks in these two sections of the Phase 3 are also on the 2,500-cycle checklist. Look further and you’ll find more duplicates.
When a King Air hits the 10,000-cycle mark there is a significant list of inspections to be done. (For 90 models, it happens at 9,000 cycles.) Again, there is a lot of overlap between the 2,500-cycle checklist and these 10,000-cycle items. Maybe the factory thought some of these items shouldn’t go for 10,000 cycles before getting inspected, so they added a look-see at the 2,500-, 5,000- and 7,500-cycle intervals. This means it will also come due again at 10,000 cycles. Time to guard against double-dipping.
Recently I was hired to represent the seller of a King Air that had just reached 10,000 cycles and 10,000 hours total time. Logbook research by the buyer showed that the shop doing the maintenance for the seller had missed a few required items, including the 2,500-cycle inspection. Coincidentally, the buyer was having the shop complete a Phase 3 and Phase 4 as their pre-buy. The shop charged meticulously for every task called out on all checklists. Needless to say, I found a lot of double-dipping between the 2,500-cycle and the Phase 3 inspections.
Additionally, I found triple-dipping in the case of some 10,000-cycle tasks that also appeared on the other two inspections. All these duplicate items were brought to the attention of the shop administrators in a face-to-face meeting. It was a bit of a battle, but I won many credits for the seller.
The 3,000-Hour Flap Inspection
This flap inspection is the other maintenance item added recently by Textron Aviation. It calls for in-depth inspection of the flap roller bearings, flap tracks and associated structure. Unlike the 2,500-cycle inspection, there is no clear-cut duplication with a Phase checklist or other special inspections. Of course, you want to have it done during a Phase for the sake of convenience, but it will be an added labor cost.
In recent years I have seen a lot of flap roller bearings going bad, so I am a fan of this 3,000-hour flap inspection. A bad roller bearing, if not detected and replaced early enough, will wreak havoc on your flap tracks and possibly the flap itself. These are costly repairs to make, but easy to prevent by being proactive with the Teflon washers in your flap assemblies.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will beg, plead and admonish you to check for the white, or whiteish, Teflon washers. I’ve written four articles on flaps and I mention these Teflon washers every time. (Note: see my October 2016 article featured in this magazine for detailed directions on doing this simple check and adding it to your preflight routine. Email me or give me a call if you can’t locate the article.) You cannot afford not to know about the correct placement of these washers and having them replaced at the slightest sign of wear.
Double- and triple-dipping by a shop might be on purpose or may be an oversight – or perhaps a little of both. These days shops have software programs that take a simple entry by the mechanic on the floor and parlay it into a line item on the invoice replete with a full description of the task, parts required, freight charges and sales tax. This is great for the shop to keep track of all pertinent expenses. Customers, however, need to go over these invoices with a fine-tooth comb.
Automated systems have no commonsense. If the Phase 3, 2,500-cycle inspection and the 10,000-cycle inspections are on the same job, all the tasks for each inspection are loaded into the invoice, regardless of duplication. Sometimes the person churning out these invoices has zero knowledge of the invoice content. The shop needs someone with maintenance knowledge and experience to vet the duplicate charges and fine-tune the invoices.
In the case I presented above where I represented the seller, the person who reviewed and revised the invoices had an A&P certificate and some familiarity with what goes on in the hangar, but they failed to notice the double and triple-dipping until I came along.
And it didn’t end there. I found an instance where the shop charged 3.5 hours in labor to change the O-rings at the brake bleeder valves. This is a five-minute task once the mechanic has the parts in hand, so I questioned the 3.5 hours of labor. They said “Well, the guys had to bleed the brake lines.” So, I pointed out a previous squawk where they replaced the master brake cylinder on that side and had charged plenty of hours to cover bleeding the system.
Eventually the labor for the bleeder valve O-rings was removed. There were other instances along those lines where I refuted excessive labor charges. I also sourced parts with better pricing and stuck my nose in a number of places where it probably was not wanted. I think I reviewed no less than a dozen versions of the invoice before it was finalized. It was a brutal job, but in the end, my client was happy. The seller, their pilot and their broker all agreed that they couldn’t have achieved the end result without my assistance. So, there are times where it pays to have someone in your corner.
The Bottom Line
I’m not trying to make an A&P out of anyone reading these Maintenance Tip articles. My goal has always been to help King Air pilots and owners become better informed about the maintenance needs of their King Air. Of course, safety is No. 1 – always and forever. But spending your maintenance dollar wisely comes in second. Where possible, I’m looking out for your bottom line.
I hate to speak ill of any shop because I know how difficult it is to succeed in this business. One of my longtime customers (a Duke owner still flying the aircraft he purchased from BeechWest in Van Nuys over 40 years ago) told me over and over, “Dean, if aircraft maintenance was easy, everybody would be doing it.”
Trust me, it’s not easy. When you find a good shop – and they are out there – be nice, be patient, and you’ll get the same treatment in return. They will work with you to achieve the safest and best result while doing everything in their power to control your costs.
Later, when someone admires your King Air and asks where you go for maintenance, tell them.