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Posted 7 years 143 days ago ago by Admin

Ever wonder how many times you signed your name and A&P number after the word “airworthy.” For me, it’s in the thousands. So, how does a mechanic define it?

For some, the definition is rigid: the aircraft must be in like-new condition with a pristine record trail. For others, it’s a gray area of personal decision, defined by an aircraft’s use, age, and regulatory compliance.

Regardless of interpretation, the airworthy condition of an aircraft is the core function of a mechanic. Yet, an official FAA definition of this fundamental word is lacking within our maintenance regulations and guidance material. Let’s try to find one.

The Basics

Numerous articles, papers, and FAA documents offer various descriptions of airworthy. The common accepted version today requires an aircraft to conform to its type design and to be in a condition for safe operation.

Looking to the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs), essential terms and their definitions are usually given at the beginning of a chapter, part, or section, along with an applicability clause. FAR Part 1, Definitions and Abbreviations, applies to “Subchapters A through K of this chapter,” so it seems it would be a logical place to find a definition for airworthy, since our Part 43 falls under Subchapter C.  

Unfortunately, the definition is not listed in FAR Part 1, or Part 43, or Part 65 for that matter. Given its significance, you would think airworthy, or airworthiness, would have its own part in the FARs.

Some History

Prior to the late 1950s, when the Civil Aeronautics Administration and Civil Aeronautics Regulations (CARs) regulated the U.S. aviation industry, the definition of airworthy was different. For example, the 1938 definition in CAR Part 01, Aircraft Certificates, states:

“01.11 Airworthy. As used herein the term ‘airworthy’ when applied to a particular aircraft or component thereof denotes the ability of such aircraft or component thereof to perform its function satisfactorily throughout a range of operations determined by the Secretary in rating the aircraft or component thereof.”

After the formation of the FAA in 1958, and up to 2005, a stand-alone definition of airworthy disappeared. However, its meaning was implied in various FAA documents. For example, this familiar phrase appears in FAR Part 21.183: “to determine conformity to the type design and condition for safe operation.” Although this implied definition was applicable only to Part 21, it was something a mechanic could point to should a need arise.

Airworthy Reappears

Around the end of 2005, the FAA amended the FARs by adding a new Part 3, General Requirements. We finally get an “airworthy” definition in Section 3.5(a):

“Airworthy means the aircraft conforms to its type design and is in a condition for safe operation.”

Yes, a definition with teeth. Why didn’t the FAA put that in Part 1?

A review of the Part 3 applicability clause reveals the following:

“This part applies to any person who makes a record regarding: (1) A type-certificated product, or (2) A product, part, appliance or material that may be used on a type-certificated product.”

Well, at least half the battle is won. We now have a valid definition covering maintenance write-ups that include the term airworthy (e.g., entries required in FAR Part 43.11). So, can we use the Part 3 definition when determining aircraft condition without making a record? Why restrict its applicability?

A look into the reasoning behind FAR Part 3 directs us to the Federal Register, Vol. 70, No. 179,
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