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Aircraft maintenance checks are periodic inspections that have to be done on all commercial/civil aircraft after a certain amount of time or usage; military aircraft normally follow specific maintenance programmes which may or may not be similar to those of commercial/civil operators. Airlines and other commercial operators of large or turbine-powered aircraft follow a continuous inspection program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States, or by other airworthiness authorities such as Transport Canada or the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
Under FAA oversight, each operator prepares a Continuous Airworthiness Maintenance Program (CAMP) under its Operations Specifications or “OpSpecs”. The CAMP includes both routine and detailed inspections. Airlines and airworthiness authorities casually refer to the detailed inspections as “checks”, commonly one of the following: A check, B check, C check, or D check. A and B checks are lighter checks, while C and D are considered heavier checks.
This is performed approximately every 6-8 months. It needs about 160-180 man-hours, depending on the aircraft, and is usually completed within 1–3 days at an airport hangar. A similar occurrence schedule applies to the B check as to the A check. However, B checks may also be incorporated into successive A checks, i.e.: Checks A-1 through A-10 complete all the B check items.
A Parts Manufacturer Approval, or PMA, is one way to obtain approval to produce replacement or modification parts for installation on a type-certificated product. Such parts are considered to be approved parts.
This is performed approximately every 20–24 months or a specific amount of actual flight hours (FH) or as defined by the manufacturer. This maintenance check is much more extensive than a B check, requiring a large majority of the aircraft’s components to be inspected. This check puts the aircraft out of service, and the aircraft must not leave the maintenance site until it is completed. It also requires more space than A and B checks. It is, therefore, usually carried out in a hangar at a maintenance base. The time needed to complete such a check is at least 1–2 weeks and the effort involved can require up to 6,000 man-hours. The schedule of occurrence has many factors and components as has been described, and thus varies by aircraft category and type.
This is by far the most comprehensive and demanding check for an airplane. It is also known as an IL or “heavy maintenance visit” (HMV). This check occurs approximately every six years.
It is a check that more or less takes the entire airplane apart for inspection and overhaul. Even the paint may need to be completely removed for further inspection on the fuselage metal skin. Such a check can generally take up to 50,000 man-hours and 2 months to complete, depending on the aircraft and the number of technicians involved.
It also requires the most space of all maintenance checks, and as such must be performed at a suitable maintenance base. The requirements and the tremendous effort involved in this maintenance check make it by far the most expensive, with total costs for a single D check in the million-dollar range.
Because of the nature and the cost of such a check, most airlines — especially those with a large fleet — have to plan D checks for their aircraft years in advance. Often, older aircraft being phased out of a particular airline’s fleet are either stored or scrapped upon reaching their next D check, due to the high costs involved in comparison to the aircraft’s value. On average, a commercial aircraft undergoes three D checks before being retired. Many maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) shops claim that it is virtually impossible to perform a D check profitably at a shop located within the United States. As such, only a few of these shops offer D checks.
Given the time requirements of this check, many airlines use the opportunity in order to also make major cabin modifications on the aircraft, which would otherwise require an amount of time that would have to put the aircraft out of service without the need for an inspection. This may include new seats, entertainment systems, carpeting, etc.