You wonder how he does it — every year, a pilot on the field seems to get 13 months out of his plane between annuals; and even though your financial lives are identical, his plane seems to get a little nicer each year, too. You watch and wonder, wanting to know how he pulls off this little trick without bending any rules, hoping that you’ll be able to figure it out, and take advantage of it.
One day you approach the owner, intent on asking him how he does it. As you sit down to a cup of coffee, he spills his guts on what he calls the progressive annual (by the end of this article, you’ll soon learn just what he means). Truly, not only is his game legal, but you can do it too. All it takes is a little time management.
KNOW YOUR REGS
The FARs state that an annual inspection on an airplane is good to the last day of the month it is signed off in. That means if you get your plane signed off in April, 2002, it is good to the end of April 2003 — regardless of whether the plane is signed off on April 1st, or April 30th. The annual inspection is good until the end of the month, but not a day more.
Good: A plane due in for annual at the end of April, 2002, our owner places his plane in the shop for annual on the first day of May. The plane comes out of annual in three and half weeks, slightly ahead of schedule. The annual is signed off in late May, and he now has 12 months to legally fly the aircraft before it’s due for its next annual inspection.
Better: If the annual had run just a few days longer, and the mechanic signed off the paperwork in June, the owner could technically perform his next annual in July of 2003. That extra handful of days in the shop just added nearly 30 more days to the time before the next annual is due.
To take advantage of this little caveat all a pilot needs to do is take action to assure his plane makes it out of annual at the right time to take full advantage of the regulations. To maximize time before your next annual, try to plan it so that the aircraft leaves the shop as early in the month as possible. Yes, it’s a bit of a wager, but you can make an educated guess. If history shows that the plane takes around three and a half weeks to annual an owner can use that yardstick (along with the A&P’s insights and schedule) to figure a rough completion time. Erring on the conservative side, if the annual is done early, the owner can always add in some extra work (there’s always something that can be done now or put off for another year). Doing it now may push the finish date back a few days and give you a couple more weeks of legal flying.
THE REAL COST OF AN ANNUAL
The approach outlined above will allow you to stretch the interval between annuals, but not without a cost. The cost comes through the fact that this agenda assures that your annual dates will progress through the year. Eventually, the annual is going to cycle through the summer — when you would likely rather be flying the plane, instead of watching it get inspected. If that condition is ‘no factor,’ then you can legally extend your annual by a month each year.
Many pilots currently use this approach to get more use out of their aircraft, or simply use the technique to shift the annual of a recently purchased plane to a month more suited to the pilot’s schedule or the area’s annual weather patterns (down for rainy season). Take a moment to discuss the option with your A&P. If you decide to take the step to move to 13-month annuals, you may spend a touch more each year adding little bells and whistles to assure the aircraft leaves its annual inspection with good timing.
…AND THE REAL BENEFIT: By adopting a progressive annual’s schedule you win both time and money. Ten years later, you’ll have an aircraft that got nicer through the addition of one little upgrade per year at annual — and you’ll have saved yourself the cost of one full annual. In other words, you’ll have a nicer airplane, with a slightly higher resale value, without putting any more money into it than you would have by scheduling yearly annuals.
And that is progressive.