How Much Should an Annual Cost?
by James S. Christy

How much should an annual cost?
That is a question I hear a lot from people who are interested in buying an Aerostar. The answer of course is... It depends on what condition the airplane is in when you buy it. It also depends on who is going to do the inspection and what level of knowledge they have about the airplane. Does it matter whether the airplane was just annualed? Not necessarily. For instance, I just bought a 601P with a fresh annual that had a ragged hole the size of a walnut clear through the tailpipe. That inspection was evidently signed off by people who knew nothing about the Aerostar, didn’t actually see the airplane, but only required that you provide a recent picture of the airplane flying.
Although it shouldn’t, the attitude of the owner also plays a part. I once had an Aerostar maintenance shop owner tell me they signed off the annual even though there were life limited parts out of time, “because the owner didn’t want to change them.” I also worked for a dealer one time that differentiated between a “heavy annual” and a “light annual.” The airplanes he sold only required the latter.

The owner of the Aerostar pictured here brought it in for an annual inspection and the addition of known icing. He had some additional straps on the bottom left wing spar, but nothing in the log books. Investigating further, we found the wing had been damaged and poorly repaired, and to be made airworthy it had to be redone completely. (No wonder no one wanted to take credit for the repair.) We built fixtures to hold the wing and fuselage in place and removed the left engine to gain access and relieve the loading on the wing. The right engine came off to repair the engine mount. One of the tubes was damaged (chaffed through) due to lack of proper maintenance.

"I feel your pain." That’s my airplane with the fabric removed, the prop off, tail off, and etc. I asked one of my mechanics to annual the airplane since I didn’t know much about tube and fabric. We first changed the cables, because they were not swedged properly. I relearned how to cover an aileron (since A & P school), because he found a cracked spar and it was cheaper to buy a new one than fix it. When he was checking my turn buckle safety wire job in the tail he noticed a small crack in the upper longeron tube at the rear horizontal tail attach point. I called Cub Crafters in Yakima, WA. (Where they have been rebuilding Cubs for years.) They gave me a couple of areas to look at as well. We are now replacing the tubing around the cabin area, because it rusted in exactly the places they described. I was supposed to be flying into the Idaho back country strips this summer, but instead I am doing a very "heavy annual." I am glad we found all of these problems, but I still wonder how they weren’t found before.

The answer is probably that the people inspecting the airplane were not experienced enough to find these problems. We found some of the problems on our own because my mechanic has excellent investigative skills, but we found even more when we had expert advise.

What if Piper comes out with a Service Bulletin to uncover the wings and check the spars for cracks and possibly add a doubler? (That is the rumor.) Am I going to check with my own mechanic to see if he thinks it is really necessary? Am I going to call the AOPA and tell them to oppose the Bulletin? Not likely. Piper probably knows more about the Cub than I do. I’ll just do the update, because it’s really a small price to pay to know I have a safe airplane.

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