Flying with inop alternator

Discussion in 'Maintenance Bay' started by Ed Haywood, Jan 30, 2021.

  1. Dan Thomas

    Dan Thomas Final Approach

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    In my experience, it's the alternator 80% of the time. Of the rest, it's worn, frayed and failing wiring in the engine compartment, or a regulator failure, which is rather rare. Like I say, the alternator and regulator wiring are supposed to be checked at 100 hour/annual intervals. I've found badly worn wiring that previous mechanics (or cheap owners) just kept taping up, or it had to have been ignored altogether. A regulator loose on the firewall has poor grounding and will cause all sort of trouble, Found that, too. An overvolt sensor with loose or corroded connections is another source, and that's in wiring under the panel that often doesn't get checked as per inspection requirements.

    Drive belt failures are rare, but if they fail it's because they weren't replaced when they got old and hard and started cracking and delaminating. On the Lycoming the prop has to come off to replace the belt, so it gets deferred too often.

    In aviation maintenance we have the Dirty Dozen of Human Factors that contribute to mistakes and resultant aircraft accidents or incidents:
    1. Lack of communication
    2. Distraction
    3. Lack of resources
    4. Stress
    5. Complacency
    6. Lack of teamwork
    7. Pressure
    8. Lack of awareness
    9. Lack of knowledge
    10. Fatigue
    11. Lack of assertiveness
    12. Norms

    Of these, inadequate inspection can be blamed on at least Complacency and Norms. Norms are the habits the staff of a shop get into, and if a shop has the norm of doing an annual inspection in an hour, you're going to get a lot of wear and tear and incipient failures overlooked. If a customer puts Pressure on the shop to do it cheap, it gets shorted. Poor training leads to a Lack of Awareness and a Lack of Knowledge. Carrying a cellphone around in the shop is a horrible Distraction. There are lots of ways things can go wrong, and someone eventually pays a price of some sort.
     
  2. Rgbeard

    Rgbeard Pattern Altitude

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    for most aircraft. No.
     
  3. kyleb

    kyleb Final Approach

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    I had a friend who traveled from Atlanta to Daytona and back many years ago (Daytona 24 hour race only happens once a year, you know) hand propping a Piper Tomahawk at each stop along the way. Apparently, the battery had a bad cell and wouldn't spin the starter, but once the engine started, the alternator was plenty to power everything and the battery was "good enough" to stabilize the system voltage. Strangely, the battery for a Tomahawk was out of stock at both Aircraft Spruce and the FBO at Daytona at the time or my friend would have had it replaced before or during the trip.
     
  4. Kritchlow

    Kritchlow Final Approach

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    My goodness... very thorough, but made my eyes water.

    I realize I fly part 121 so this doesn’t really apply, but that makes life extremely simple.
    Write it up, call maintenance, install placard, go for coffee.
     
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  5. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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    I’ve actually had two FAA inspectors in ground school argue about whether a certain static wick could be MEL’d because of the way the MEL was worded...sometimes they’re still not as cut and dried as we’d like. ;)
     
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  6. unsafervguy

    unsafervguy Pattern Altitude

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    Just to add another layer, if you have adsb that will be inop without power and 91.225 (f) requires it to be on at all times, so you would also need to request atc authorization to operate with inop adsb.
     
  7. Juliet Hotel

    Juliet Hotel Pattern Altitude

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    Some banner operators pull all the electrical stuff off to save weight but the banner planes I flew had standard electrical systems. If we had a full schedule and an alternator decided it was going to take a sick day, we didn't park the plane. We propped it and flew it with the master off. Charging system issues would wait until we had a day with a light schedule. Then we'd prop it and fly it to the shop and get it fixed. I'm not claiming it was legal, but it was a SOP for the company I worked for.
     
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  8. Magman

    Magman Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Another perspective:

    The Ferry Permit is not valid w/o an A & P sign off.

    If he/she has to look at airplane to do so then why not look at alternator?


    Some Insurance Policies do not cover Ferry Flights.

    So if you do get a Ferry Permit; your aircraft may not be safer but you did

    cancel your insurance!
     
  9. Lowflynjack

    Lowflynjack En-Route

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    I flew with a new pilot in his 172 4 times without an alternator. It wasn't intentional though!

    We didn't notice anything wrong on the first three flights and one of them was at night. It must have had a strong battery! On the fourth flight, also a night flight, we were going into San Marcos and talking to the tower while we were on final and he asked if we had our landing light on. We did. Then the next thing he said was garbled. I quickly grabbed a flashlight and started looking around the panel and under the panel I saw an unmarked toggle switch. When I flipped it on, everything brightened up and the tower confirmed he could hear me!
     
  10. Ryan F.

    Ryan F. Cleared for Takeoff

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    Thanks for reading. Yes, it's a deep dive which could have been even deeper, believe it or not.

    Fortunately, most of the time these are relatively simple matters. When inoperative equipment is discovered on a light piston airplane flown under part 91, either 91.205 or the aircraft's equipment list/KOEL will usually govern the pilot's required actions. These will be, in essence, "go/no go" calls which are pretty clear. Either you fly, or don't fly. (Or if needed, fly under the stipulations of a special flight permit.) Otherwise, 91.213 comes into play. Hopefully flight instructors are able to guide their students to the appropriate regulations and publications in order to help make the call as to whether an aircraft is airworthy or not.
     
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  11. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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    The difference being the operators that removed the electrical system stuff did it (or should have done it) via STC or field approval, which amends the type certificate part of the 91.113 equation.
     
  12. Juliet Hotel

    Juliet Hotel Pattern Altitude

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    Operators that remove stuff for weight savings generally put their planes in the restricted category. But we didn't have restricted planes where I worked. And as I said, if one of our planes stopped making electrons for some reason, it was hand propped and flown that way until it could be fixed.
     
  13. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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    As you also said, you’re not claiming it was legal. I was merely pointing out where the legal aspects probably diverged.
     
  14. Dan Thomas

    Dan Thomas Final Approach

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    The usual runup checklist calls for a check of the ammeter. We taught our students to load up the system with the landing and nav lights, pitot heat and flaps while watching the ammeter to see that it didn't go into discharge territory. Takes less than ten seconds and lets you know the alternator hasn't developed problems just yet.

    Most private airplanes that I've worked on have had no checklist visible anywhere in the cockpit. It's all done by rote, which is what they might have picked up in flight school, or complacency has set in. A lot of pilots are fearful of inflight failures, but they're not doing what they could to prevent them.
     
  15. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Pattern Altitude

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    I've never seen a clause in an insurance policy that prohibited a ferry flight as long as it complied with the CFR's. :rolleyes:
     
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  16. Lowflynjack

    Lowflynjack En-Route

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    I normally check it, but I honestly can't remember exactly why we didn't catch it. Been a couple of years ago.
     
  17. Bill

    Bill Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    You can see where ours lives:

    [​IMG] [/QUOTE]
     
  18. David Megginson

    David Megginson Cleared for Takeoff

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    Day VFR in class G, why not? J3 Cubs fly with an inop alternator all the time.
     
  19. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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    See most of the previous posts in this thread. ;)
     
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  20. Juliet Hotel

    Juliet Hotel Pattern Altitude

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    One has nothing to do with the other. I only mentioned that some operators fly without any electrics installed because if I didn't, someone would have said flying banners with no alternator is NBD because none of those planes have electric systems.

    My point was propping the plane and flying it with the master off because the battery or charging system had an issue is something I've done more than once. Not proud, but it is what it is. The plane flew just fine. I lived to tell the tale and the FAA didn't come hunt me down for being the criminal that I am. If I needed to fly a plane to have the alternator fixed today, I probably wouldn't think twice about it assuming of course I would be operating in airspace where no electronics are required but that's me.
     
  21. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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    I realize you don’t know and don’t care. I’m just posting in case anyone else cares.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2021
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  22. Magman

    Magman Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Folks usually find out if the Ferry Flight does not go well.

    Another gotcha is Minimum Total or in Make/Model Time for the PIC.

    None of this matters if the flight goes well.

    There are people that never read their policy.

    There are horror stories of denied coverage.
     
  23. pigpenracing

    pigpenracing En-Route

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    When I was up for my very first solo flight the battery was dead because the generator went out.
    I got in my 172 and my buddy hand propped it so I could do my first sold. My young flight instructor thought we were crazy..
     
  24. Kritchlow

    Kritchlow Final Approach

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    Still, as a pilot I have done my job. I leave it to the pro mechanics.
    If they find it airworthy, I’m good.

    ETA: I have found issues and brought it up to MTC.
     
  25. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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    I’ve had more than one mechanic try to lead me astray on a maintenance issue.

    Of course, the reverse is true as well.
     
  26. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Pattern Altitude

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    Has nothing to do with your comment that under certain insurance policies operating an aircraft with a Ferry Permit will invalidate the coverage.

    You wrote:
    Operating an aircraft under a SFP is covered under the CFR's and is certainly legal.
     
  27. Magman

    Magman Pre-takeoff checklist

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    You can pick this apart as you will.

    Who said it was illegal?

    it seems to me that you want to discourage people from determining what

    coverage they actually have.

    Insurance policies vary from state to state as do the conditions under which

    they will deny coverage.

    There may be a few people that know these variances.

    For the rest of us checking the policy or calling the agent might save a lot of grief.
     
  28. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Pattern Altitude

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    Again, you are making assumptions not based in fact.
     
  29. Ed Haywood

    Ed Haywood Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I tried that argument with the FAA inspector standing there. His response is that the Cub was not certified with an alternator.

    There is logic, and there is what the rules say. As I am learning the hard way, the two are not always the same.
     
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  30. Ed Haywood

    Ed Haywood Pre-takeoff checklist

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    That's great when a pro mechanic happens to be standing around. At many rural airfields, that is not a given.

    As I am learning the hard way right now, a bag of basic tools and the phone number to an A&P who knows you and your plane can make the difference between getting home and spending a week in a hotel.
     
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  31. David Megginson

    David Megginson Cleared for Takeoff

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    I realised after my initial post that the issue would be the fuel gauges — a plane has to have some visial indication of fuel level, and in PA-28s, C172s, etc, that's electrical.
     
  32. Ed Haywood

    Ed Haywood Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Not an issue in my 8KCAB. Float gauge in wing root.

    My approved flight manual emergency procedure for alternator failure says "if safety of flight is an issue, land for repairs as soon as practicable". That implies discretion on my part as PIC. However, since alternator is listed in equipment list as required for certification, apparently I do not have discretion to take off. I don't think it has anything to do with logic, just how the regs read. They can't have pilots exercising judgement about their aircraft. People could die!!!
     
  33. kontiki

    kontiki Cleared for Takeoff

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    This thread was a read and review for me. I believe you cannot operate under MEL per 91.213 without the letter from flight standards. Absent that, I'd fly it fly per 91.205, daytime, VFR only.

    I looked at the link to "understanding airworthiness" It's a good start, and no disrespect intended, but I think the author may have overlooked the owner/operators role in configuration management with regard to "conforming to type design" which in my mind means conforms to TC and STCs, with proper installation and documentation, access to ICAW and Flight Manual Supplements. If you buy an airplane with a 3rd party voltage regulator, and the FAA has no 337, and there was no record of the STC being accomplished in the aircraft records, is it airworthy? I interpret it as a change to the basic electrical system.

    Regarding the NTSB Legal opinion 3755, safetying carb heat in the cold position could be interpreted as an alteration to a deicing system and possibly a fuel system alteration, both Major Alterations per Part 43 app A.

    Just sayin.
     
  34. Magman

    Magman Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Why don’t you fill in the blanks on “ facts”?

    I’ve dealt with owners who thought they had coverage.

    When their Mooney is in a field and they discover that their policy will not

    even pay for disassembly is not a happy time.

    Why do you seem so set on folks not understanding their policies?

    “ Insurance Horror Stories” could be a good topic ?
     
  35. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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    So they had a ferry permit and ended up in a field?
     
  36. Magman

    Magman Pre-takeoff checklist

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  37. Ravioli

    Ravioli Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    That doesn't sound like a SFP issue, it sounds like a PIC issue. I wonder what the whole real story is.
     
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  38. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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    Do you have any examples where the ferry permit was actually the reason for denial?
     
  39. Magman

    Magman Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I was wrong .

    Well; sort of.

    I’m not an attorney, insurance agent nor an FAA Inspector.

    When I encounter something I’m not sure of I have to contact someone in a “Higher Pay Grade”.

    When I first encountered the SFP issue my practice became to make sure I SEE my
    name on a Policy before I fly that airplane for any reason.

    If it was not there ; then I would get a Rider for the particular flight.

    Why not err on the side of caution?

    Or so I thought.


    Rather than allude and allege I called my Insurance Broker today.

    His firm writes for many companies and I’m sure some of you deal with him as
    he’s been in the business for 30 years.

    When I asked if SOME of the policies excluded SFP he replied; “No; ALL of them do.”.

    While they may provide coverage in the type of incident discussed; he did emphatically state they can just walk away.

    The rationale stated is that ALL policies are predicated on a STANDARD Airworthiness Certificate.

    When an airplane is Not Airworthy for any reason then the Cert is no longer valid.

    The SFP is not a Standard Cert.

    He states this is written in every policy.


    If the aircraft is a week or two overdue an Annual and you want to fly 50 miles a simple call may suffice.

    If the aircraft has been sitting for 15 years and you want to move it a long way they will likely want some $$ as their risk is greater.

    This sounds reasonable to me.


    I’m not saying you don’t have coverage.

    I am saying that a phone call to assure you do is prudent.


    This has drifted away from Alternators.

    In the next few days I’ll start “ Insurance - Good,Bad, Ugly”.

    Fire away.

    Some folks believe the Earth is flat!
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2021
  40. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Pattern Altitude

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    I've owned many aircraft through my life, both for personal use and for commercial.

    Never have I seen a policy that stated I couldn't use a SFP.

    Your analogy that "When an airplane is Not Airworthy for any reason then the Cert is no longer valid" is totally wrong. Also "The SFP is not a Standard Cert", well, duh!. The SFP is a "Special Flight Permit"

    He's full of it. Neither one of you have a clue of what you're talking about.