Thursday, 10 October 2013 14:07

Good Documentation? "It's Everything"

I would like to take a moment and talk about good versus poor logbook entries and how they may affect you. I don’t know how to make this a short article because the subject has so many ramifications and implications for owners and mechanics...

I get many questions about documentation for our logbooks and I get to see many logbook entries. This article is prejudiced toward good documentation and to those who say; “If I don’t write it they can’t blame me or hold me liable”, you are sorely mistaken. I have watched many professionals bite the bullet legally and monetarily because they thought this was true. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, police, paramedics, mechanics, title companies… the list goes on and on.

  Some mechanics and owners absolutely do a good job and then some are very poorly done. Some poor logbook entries are done out of a lack of education on making a good entry and some are from pure laziness.  

  So why the big deal some say  - so long as it meets the FAA definition of legal? The short answer is for the same reason that the medical or police community documents everything. Good documentation will help to protect the mechanic and the owner from civil suits, to show the next owner or mechanic what has been done on the plane, to back up warranty claims, to protect you from legal issues with enforcement from agencies like the FAA and to help you with possible ensuing insurance claims if the need arises. So let’s explore a few of these one by one and then talk about what makes for a poor or good logbook entry.

  The mechanic always has risk involved with any maintenance work. He/she should always strive to do whatever is necessary to protect the owner and himself from civil and legal enforcement and or liability. The one way to do this is to document well what he/she did during the maintenance. Poor logbooks or illegal documentation can not only get a mechanic in trouble, but the owner too, even if the owner had nothing to do with the annual. Hand written illegible logbook entries do not cut it. If no one can read it, it’s worthless, so print it or type it if your writing skills need help. Some mechanics will argue these 3-4 line annual logbook entries fit the legal definition. If you’re the owner you may want to look for another mechanic. I have many owners and mechanics ask what to put in the logbook or how to write it. The how to write it can certainly vary with different styles, but no matter what the style - the content should be basically the same. You don’t have to make up anything or be an expert writer. Just write down what you did. For instance; if you did an oil & filter change, changed plugs, re-torqued the engine mounts, replaced a hose clamp,  performed a gearbox friction torque check, compression test, changed the coolant  - then log all these. As you do the inspection or general maintenance just jot down what you found wrong and what you did to correct the problem.

 The logbook entry will then write itself, and you are nothing but a secretary writing down what you did.  USE AN INSPECTION CHECK LIST, SIGN EACH ITEM OFF AND THE OWNER SHOULD KEEP IT. You can make notes in the margins.

 I always have a Discrepancy List that I jot my notes on and then type that up for the owner to keep. I always use the Rotax Line maintenance inspection check list and I print it out and sign off each item I inspected or corrected and give that as part of my documentation to the owner. I do the same with the fuselage check list. If you have taken a few notes and actually inspected what was on the Rotax list, then you would have had to perform some task - so then how can you document that with only 3 lines for the annual?

  IAW = “In accordance with”. Too many times this is a lazy person's way to try to use a 'catch all phrase' to cover everything for a complete inspection if there was no other detailed content. I don’t have a problem with the term IAW,  just how some use it to skip out on detailed documentation. How does the owner know what was done? Or the FAA, Rotax or the insurance company? Try to defend that in court when you write those 3-4 lines and 10 months later they ask you in court what the compression test results were or the gearbox friction torque was. If that friction torque contributed to a failure and an off field crash with injuries or a death, you may be held liable. The lawyer for the injured party will bring in five good documenting mechanics to compare your three line logbook entry and they will all agree you were remiss and the courts many times will conclude that if it isn’t written down it wasn’t done. Professionals over many decades has been beaten up in court for not only wrong doing, but more times than not, have been found liable because it wasn’t documented  - so "it wasn’t done". Why on earth would anyone want to leave themselves open to that type of liability - when all you had to do was take 5 minutes and just jot down what you really did. Half the time when I see IAW they missed half the items for the inspection when I quizzed them on what they did, and those types rarely ever use an inspection check list. So IAW can be extremely misleading.

  Another place documentation plays a part is the warranty. Rotax requires an oil purge on all new engine installations and that engine requires a 25 hour warranty inspection. If you fail to perform and/or log these and you have a major issue during warranty, you most likely will be denied  - and all it would have taken was 2-3 minutes of your time to log them.

  I did a research project a few years back on the affects of documentation on re-sale value. Depending on the price of the aircraft, poor logbooks will cost you money at the time of sale. For many of the LSA in the US that poor documentation cost sellers an average of $5K-$10K and that was right out of the owner’s pocket because of the lack of the extra 3-4 minutes of documentation during inspections. That’s an expensive few minutes for each annual.

  What about documentation for the owner or next mechanic? If your last mechanic did a poor job and failed to document a service bulletin or a service alert that may have been done, then you’ll pay the next mechanic again to see if it was done. What if the next mechanic finds a low compression on one cylinder? Was this a trend, or was this a first time low compression?

  Let’s look for a second about wording. Can this be a problem?  Here is an example: If you live in the US and own an LSA you have an Annual Condition Inspection. The others in the general aviation community have an Annual inspection. The difference will be a little more defined in the mechanic's last sentence in the logbook. If it was a certified aircraft then a mechanic can say he put it back in service. If it is an LSA aircraft then it has an annual condition inspection, and it can’t just be put “back in service” with that phraseology. It should say something similar (doesn’t have to be exact) to this: “I certify that this aircraft has been inspected within the scope and detail of the Flight Design and Rotax maintenance manuals and found to be in a safe condition for operation”. I used a Flight Design plane, but it could have been any LSA aircraft. You must explicitly put in there that it was found to be in a safe condition for operation.

  Here is a pet peeve of mine and you can decide for yourself. You get an inspection done and a facility writes a nice computer printed label, but only a 3-4 line IAW logbook entry and states that the details are on file. You just spent $1K-$5K for an inspection and they couldn’t even hit the print tab to print out a single piece of paper that they said they have typed out. You or no one else has a clue as to what was actually done unless you research this and have them send a copy. They gave you no check list, and held back on details that should be in the book. What if these database records or servers get damaged, or they go out of business? How hard is it to hit the print tab and hand a piece of paper to the owner - or just put it in the book where it really belongs. Is what they do legal? Yes, but in my opinion a terrible practice. If it were me paying those dollars for an inspection, it better also pay for a piece of paper.

  So what makes for better inspection documentation? Well, the sky’s the limit. I saw one mechanic not only write everything down, but took pictures of everything and put them in a 3 ring binder for the owner. That mechanic is certainly at the top of the class for documentation. I always use and give the owner a typed Discrepancy List, a signed off copy of the Rotax Line maintenance inspection check list, and a signed off fuselage check list for that particular plane. This will help protect the owner and it will help protect you the mechanic  - which could be one and the same. Then I type out on a sticky label so it’s readable and it’s a complete detailed list of items I may have checked or actual issues I may have corrected. I’m just a secretary and just write down the things I did, nothing more and nothing less. Additionally I make sure the document has the date, TTSN hours, tail number, aircraft type, aircraft serial and Rotax serial number.

  Logbook entries can be written many ways and we all have different writing styles and that’s okay - but content needs to be there. Below are a few examples of bad logbook entries and also a few better ones. You can certainly be as detailed as you want, and many choose to include the manual, paragraph and section in the manual where they got the information to correct a problem. The examples below are just that, examples and they could easily be more detailed if you so choose.


The first ones here are not very good. They lack a lot of detail and content...







Below are a couple of better examples.

These aren’t necessarily all inclusive or top of the line entries, but they do include detail and important inspection information and at least show that someone made a better effort to document  - and most likely did a better inspection.




All these are merely examples and yours may differ quite a bit and be worded differently.
You may include more information than these and quote manuals, pages and paragraphs. No matter how you feel about what you have read, I hope that you might take away a piece or two of this article to make your logbook entries more complete - and to ask for better documentation from your mechanic.

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