Frugal Pilots Dream of Full Owner Maintenance

Imagine owning a frugal aircraft – a Cessna 120 through 172, Piper Cub and PA-11 through 28, Aeronca, Taylorcraft, and even some Grummans and Beeches – and being able to work on them legally. Yes, even sign them off for the annual inspection. Just imagine.

Hard to imagine? Then go to Canada! Canadian aircraft owners can perform maintenance and sign off on a wide variety of recreational aircraft maintenance and repair. It’s all spelled out in Canadian Aviation Regulations’ Part V – Standard 507 – Owner Maintenance. In addition, the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPAnational.org) offers a guide on the Owner Maintenance Category, what owners can and cannot do, and eligibility requirements.

The Owner-Maintenance category, says COPA, was developed to allow certain older certified fixed-wing airplanes and gliders to be maintained and restored under similar regulations as amateur-built aircraft. OM aircraft are pretty well limited to daytime VFR, but their pilots can have a lot of fun before the sun sets.

What work can aircraft owners do on O-M category aircraft? They can maintain the aircraft, conduct and sign for the annual inspection, refurbish or overhaul all or part of the plane, install certified and uncertified parts, install or replace any instruments or avionics, modify an airplane (within certain limits), rebuild an aircraft that is out of service, and sign the maintenance release.

And guess what? The owner can hire someone to do some or all of the work on the eligible aircraft – an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME), an amateur builder or Uncle Harry. After final inspection, the AME or owner/pilot can sign the maintenance release and it’s time to go flying. 

There are about 400 eligible aircraft models in the Canadian OM category, everything from an Aero Commander 100 to a Wolf Hirth Doppelraab IV. If the list isn’t long enough to fit your wings, you can add it to the list following CAR Standard 507.03(6)(e). Basically, eligible aircraft weren’t built to carry more than four people, weigh less than 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg), are powered by a single normally-aspirated piston engine, are not considered a commercial aircraft and the type and model hasn’t been manufactured during the last five years.

The process for converting an eligible Canadian aircraft from certified category to Owner Maintenance category is relatively simple, easier than getting a U.S. homebuilt aircraft certified as experimental. Fill out some forms, pay a $250 fee, and post a “Special Certificate of Airworthiness: Owner Maintenance” in the cockpit.

Wow! How do American frugal pilots sign up? Hold on, Socko, let’s hear…the rest of the story.

Canada’s OM Category has been around for about 20 years. However, by 2013, just 4 percent of all Canadian aircraft were registered in the OM category. Ouch! Why so few? Well, in Canada, selling an OM aircraft is about as tough as selling a U.S. experimental aircraft – and for some of the same reasons. The owner, not a licensed mechanic, can perform all repairs and sign off on airworthiness. Now we all know that an experimental aircraft is probably better maintained than many certified aircraft. That’s because the owner is flying it, not some mechanic who may or may not even have a pilot license. But the perception to many is that A&P-inspected aircraft are safer than owner-maintained aircraft. True in many cases, false in others, but that is a popular perception.

However, the largest reason why the Canadian OM category isn’t more popular is the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Since 2002, the FAA bans Canadian OM category aircraft from being sold – or even flying – in the U.S. With so much free trade going on every day between these two friendly countries, many Canadian pilots just don’t want to limit the market to selling their aircraft just to Canadians.

Okay. How about converting an OM aircraft back to certified in Canada or the U.S.? Not so easy. The original airworthiness certificate that the plane came out of the factory with is no longer valid. The engine, propeller and all life-limited parts on the aircraft were permanently etched with an “X”. For example, the Cessna 140 was legally made a Cessna 140X. And you can bet that every inch of the OM aircraft must be overhauled by an A&P mechanic and signed off before the new certificate is issued. Big Canadian bucks! The OM category was designed to be one-way.

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Of course, there’s much more to this story. However, it is relatively clear that even if the FAA someday decides to let Canadian OM aircraft fly in U.S. airspace – such as to Oshkosh, for example – the chances of the FAA establishing a similar Owner Maintenance category for us frugal pilots in the U.S. are slim to none. Consider how long it took ultralight and light-sport aircraft rules to be established. And don’t forget the ongoing third-class medical battle. So, for now, U.S. frugal pilots must imagine.

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