As an aircraft owner, maintenance on your aircraft is expected and compulsory both from a regulatory perspective and for safety of flight.
Aside from acquisition and operational costs, maintenance will likely be the greatest expense of aircraft ownership. When it comes to aircraft maintenance, owners often become frustrated with two issues. The first issue is cost. The second issue is how long maintenance takes, particularly unexpected maintenance. We all want to get back in the air as quickly and cost effectively as possible. This is true no matter what you are flying. When costs are higher than expected, it cuts into your bottom line. When an aircraft is down for maintenance, it is unusable for its intended purpose. When estimates double or even triple, or when weeks stretch into months or possibly years, even the most patient pilot’s feathers become ruffled.
There are a few tips to consider when deciding the who and how of aircraft maintenance to avoid frustration and the unexpected. Consideration first should be given to the reputation of the shop or mechanic performing the work. Consideration should also be given to the type of aircraft that the shop or mechanic usually services. Many mechanics are particularly good with aircraft models they routinely work on. If your aircraft is unique, and there are a lot of unique aircraft, you should consider carefully who can best service your plane. Find an expert on your aircraft that has a good reputation and with whom you can develop a long-term relationship. The best are often not the cheapest, but a reputable provider that knows your aircraft can save you thousands in the long run.
It is also important to obtain a written quote for the work to be performed. In this regard, it is important to carefully review the written work-scope proposed as well as the work authorization granted to the mechanic performing the maintenance or inspection. If there is ambiguity, it is important to get ahead of this and clarify anything that you do not understand.
When it comes to work authorizations, you should pay very special attention to putting limits both on the cost and time a project will take. Carefully read and seek to understand whatever the mechanic or shop presents you. If you are working with a mechanic that operates on an informal basis, make sure that you effectively create a scope of work with the mechanic via written correspondence to memorialize expectations.
It's also important to stay in regular contact with your mechanic to understand how things are progressing and the costs incurred to date.
Finally, consider that, although maintenance providers have certain responsibilities, keep in mind that per FAR 91.403(a), an aircraft owner is primarily responsible for maintaining an aircraft in an airworthy condition. This nuance is often overlooked or misunderstood, particularly by first-time aircraft owners. This means that the owner, not the maintenance provider, is responsible for ensuring maintenance was done in accordance with the regulations, that all required inspections have been completed, that the aircraft has satisfied all applicable Airworthiness Directives and complies with its type certificate, and that all required paperwork and logbook entries have been made.
As an aircraft owner, you should be aware that disputes do arise frequently with aircraft maintenance shops and personnel. Keeping these tips in mind, you can avoid the sticker shock and stop any disputes before they arise.
Aircraft Maintenance for Providers – Tips for Getting Paid.
While the remainder of this article will focus on what a maintenance facility or mechanic can do in the event of non-payment for work performed, this information is helpful for aircraft maintenance providers and aircraft owners alike.
Many of the same tips which apply to aircraft owners also apply to mechanics. Ensure you and the owner or management company requesting maintenance are on the same page by creating an accurate written quote. Ensure you have appropriate work authorizations to complete the work proposed. If you agree to provide periodic updates, or to request authorization from the owner/manager before continuing the work after a prescribed timeframe or cost, honor those agreements. Perhaps most important, be transparent with the owner/manager, particularly when discovering additional issues which must be corrected.
However, as a maintenance facility or mechanic, you may have an additional tool available. When you provide an aircraft owner or management company with repairs or maintenance but have not been paid, it may be possible to assert a lien against the aircraft title. This is commonly referred to as a mechanic’s lien. Depending on the state, you may simply be able to hold the aircraft until the debt is paid. Of course, you’ll have to be prepared to keep up the aircraft and store it appropriately.
Alternatively, at least in Florida, possession is arguably no longer a requirement to perfect a mechanic’s lien. First, you must comply with F.S. §329.51 and §713.58 by filing all documents required within ninety (90) days of the last date services were rendered. Then, file and record the lien with the FAA Registry to notify all potential purchasers who may run a title search and the owner of your interest. The lien, once recorded, is a security interest in the aircraft that is not consensual.
Thereafter, you can then either wait for payment or initiate a foreclosure action. It should be noted and calendared that foreclosure proceedings, at least in Florida, must be commenced within one year of filing the lien. If not, the lien may no longer be enforceable against the aircraft. Once a year has passed without court intervention, the amount owed will no longer be secured by the aircraft and it may be necessary to pursue civil claims without the benefit of enforceability of a lien.
If the foreclosure action is successful, the court will order the aircraft sold at a sale or auction. The aircraft is then sold to the highest bidder at the sale. If no one bids at the sale, the aircraft will be sold to you for the amount of the lien. If the aircraft is sold for more than the amount of the lien, proceeds will be disbursed to you to pay the lien claim, and any excess money will be paid in accordance with interests held in the aircraft.
If, however, your lien is unsuccessful, and it is found that you wrongfully detained property or wrongfully brought the foreclosure action, you may be on the hook for damages, reasonable court costs, and attorney fees sustained.
Accordingly, I encourage you to seek legal counsel prior to filing a lien as every circumstance is unique and requires specific planning to ensure that appropriate measures are taken. Unfortunately, we have observed a recent spike in payment disputes with aircraft maintenance facilities and resulting lien filings. Conversely, it is important for aircraft owners to know their rights when it comes to aircraft maintenance and the potential for a mechanic’s lien to be filed for work performed even if disputed.
On a final note, I routinely receive inquiries from aircraft brokers to place liens on aircraft for unpaid commissions and costs. In Florida, a lien is not an appropriate avenue to collect an unpaid commission unless it is contemplated as a consensual lien in the brokerage agreement. Rather, the appropriate recourse is a civil action based upon an executed brokerage commission.
This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed or relied upon as legal advice or counsel. Please consult with your attorney as appropriate.
Mr. Owen’s practice concentrates on aircraft and aviation-related transactions, cross-border transactions, airman defense before the FAA and Department of Transportation, airport real estate and land use, and civil litigation. Mr. Owen’s formed Aviation Legal Counsel in 2017.
L. Forrest Owens, Esq.
L. Forrest Owens, PA DBA Aviation Legal Counsel
(888) 935-9529 Ext. 2