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FAA Glossaries

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Required Documents in the Airplane

We are all taught the ARROW acronym—Airworthiness Certificate, Registration, Radio License, Operating Limitations, Weight and Balance. I previously wrote about this topic and thought that it deserved a revisit.

There are three occasions when you may be asked for these documents. When being ramp checked, when the aircraft goes in for an annual inspection, or when the aircraft is involved in an accident or incident.

AIRCRAFT DOCUMENTS. Following are considerations when examining aircraft documents, including registration and airworthiness certificates and approved flight manuals. Discrepancies found concerning the airworthiness or registration certificates shall be brought to the attention of the operator, documented, and given to the airworthiness unit for action.
A. N-Numbers. The N-number on the registration certificate must match the N-number on the airworthi­ness certificate.
B. Registration Certificate. If the registered owner has changed you may see a temporary registration (Pink Slip) which is good for 120 days. If the ownership has changed without a Pink Slip or the N- numbers do not match, the registration is not valid.
C. Radio Station License. An aircraft FCC radio license is required although the FAA does not regulate the requirement. The license may be for that particular N-number or a fleet license. The expiration date of the license is in the upper right hand corner. Any discrep­ancy concerning the radio license should be brought to the attention of the operator only.
D. Flight Manual. An Aircraft Flight Manual is required to be on board the aircraft (FAR § 91.9 {91.31}) along with the appropriate markings and placards.
E. Weight and Balance Information. Weight and balance documents, including a list of equipment, must be on board the aircraft. Some multiengine operators have Minimum Equipment Lists (MEL’s) with a letter of authorization issued by a district office. These constitute a supplemental type certificate for the aircraft and must be on board. The inspector should compare inop­erative equipment to the MEL to assure compliance. (Refer to Related Task #58, Approve a Minimum Equipment List.)
F. Airworthiness Certificate. The certificate most often seen by an inspector is a standard airworthiness certificate, which is issued for normal, utility, acrobatic, and transport category aircraft. A restricted, limited, or experimental certificate must be accompanied by a list of limitations and conditions (FAR § 21.183 -191) necessary for safe operation. A Special Flight Permit (Ferry Permit) is issued to aircraft that may not be airworthy but are capable of safe flight under certain conditions which are listed and issued with the permit (FAR §§ 21.197 , 91.203 {91.27}, and 91.213 {91.30}). Review the list of limitations and conditions to assure a valid airworthiness certificate. The N-number on the certificate must match the N-number on the fuselage to be valid.

Airworthiness Certificate and Registration Certificate
The standard airworthiness certificate is issued when the airplane is manufactured or when the N number changes. In addition to the standard Airworthiness Certificate, there are Experimental, Restricted, or Special Flight Certificates that may apply to your aircraft.

Registrations must be renewed every three years. The FAA has a page that explains the process. You can also check the status of an aircrafts registration and who it is registered to on the FAA website.

§91.203 Civil aircraft: Certifications required.
(a) Except as provided in §91.715, no person may operate a civil aircraft unless it has within it the following:

(1) An appropriate and current airworthiness certificate. Each U.S. airworthiness certificate used to comply with this subparagraph (except a special flight permit, a copy of the applicable operations specifications issued under §21.197(c) of this chapter [Special flight permits], …
(2) An effective U.S. registration certificate issued to its owner or, for operation within the United States, the second copy of the Aircraft registration Application as provided for in §47.31(c), a Certificate of Aircraft registration as provided in part 48, or a registration certification issued under the laws of a foreign country.

Radio Station License
A radio station and operators license is required if you make international flights or communicate with foreign stations. As far as I can tell, this requirement is not enforced for flights to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. I got my restricted operators permit in 1980 when they were still required for domestic operations but have not flown internationally.

…you do not need a license to operate a two-way VHF radio, radar, or emergency locator transmitter (ELT) aboard aircraft operating domestically. All other aircraft radio stations must be licensed by the FCC either individually or by fleet. Aircraft operating domestically do not land in a foreign country or communicate via radio with foreign ground stations.FAA

You must obtain an FCC Aircraft Radio Station License if you make international flights or communicate with foreign stations. If you are not required to obtain a license – you do not need to file this form [Form 605] with the FCC. The license has a term of 10 years.

At least one person on each aircraft flying or communicating internationally must have a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit. This requirement is in addition to the requirement to have an aircraft radio station license for the aircraft. No Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit is required to operate VHF radio equipment on board an aircraft when that aircraft is flown domestically. You may obtain a Restricted Permit using FCC Form 605. No test is required to obtain this permit. The permit when issued will be valid for your lifetime. The fee for a Restricted Permit is in addition to any fee paid for an aircraft license.FAA

§87.18 Station license required.
(a) Except as noted in paragraph (b) of this section, stations in the aviation service must be licensed by the FCC either individually or by fleet.

(b) An aircraft station is licensed by rule and does not need an individual license issued by the FCC if the aircraft station is not required by statute, treaty, or agreement to which the United States is signatory to carry a radio, and the aircraft station does not make international flights or communications. Even though an individual license is not required, an aircraft station licensed by rule must be operated in accordance with all applicable operating requirements, procedures, and technical specifications found in this part.

§87.87 Classification of operator licenses and endorsements.
(b) The following licenses are issued by the Commission. International classification, if different from the license name, is given in parentheses. The licenses and their alphanumeric designator are listed in descending order.
(7) RP Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (radiotelephone operator’s restricted certificate)

§87.89 Minimum operator requirements.
(a) A station operator must hold a commercial radio operator license or permit…

Acceptable Radios
As of January 1, 1997, each VHF aircraft radio used on board a U.S. aircraft must be type accepted by the FCC as meeting a 30 parts-per-million (ppm) frequency tolerance (47 C.F.R. § 87.133). The vast majority of aircraft radios that have been type accepted under the 30 ppm frequency tolerance utilize 25 kHz spacing and have 720 or 760 channels. Each aircraft radio has a label with an FCC ID number on the unit. See this post for a short history of radio frequencies.

Operating Limitations
This part of the acronym seems to generate the most confusion. Per §21.5 aircraft delivered after March 1, 1979 must have an FAA approved flight manual (AFM). Aircraft prior to that date were delivered with an Owner’s Handbook, Pilot’s Operating Handbook, Owner’s Manual, Information Manual or similarly named booklet. These did not have a standard format and the information contained in them varied wildly. They are not required to be in the airplane, however since they give information like landing and takeoff distances—which are required to be calculated for each flight—it would make sense to have them readily available. Many aircraft were sold with an Airplane Flight Manual that listed the operating limitations, required placards, instrument markings, installed equipment, and the weight and balance information when the aircraft left the factory. There is no regulation requiring that they be in the plane.

The placards listed in the type certificate are required, so if you get your panel redone—as we did—then you’ll need to make sure you have all of the required placards. The placards list operating limitations like maximum baggage weight, spins prohibited, fuel tank switching procedures, etc. They also mark things like the throttle, mixture, fuel selector, etc.

There are a few ADs that require placards and if you aircraft is subject to the AD, then you must have the placard displayed.

If you have equipment like a GPS or autopilot installed, the STC may require that the operating manual for the equipment be carried in the aircraft. These are generally referred to as flight manual supplements.

If an FAA approved flight manual is required, it is specific to that airplane and is required to be in the aircraft along with any required flight manual supplements.

§91.9 Civil aircraft flight manual, marking, and placard requirements.
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, no person may operate a civil aircraft without complying with the operating limitations specified in the approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual, markings, and placards, or as otherwise prescribed by the certificating authority of the country of registry.

(b) No person may operate a U.S.-registered civil aircraft—

(1) For which an Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual is required by §21.5 of this chapter unless there is available in the aircraft a current, approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual or the manual provided for in §121.141(b); and

(2) For which an Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual is not required by §21.5 of this chapter, unless there is available in the aircraft a current approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual, approved manual material, markings, and placards, or any combination thereof.

(c) No person may operate a U.S.-registered civil aircraft unless that aircraft is identified in accordance with part 45 of this chapter.

The reference it part 45 is regarding the placement and size of the N number.

§21.5 Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual.
(a) With each airplane or rotorcraft not type certificated with an Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual and having no flight time before March 1, 1979, the holder of a type certificate (including amended or supplemental type certificates) or the licensee of a type certificate must make available to the owner at the time of delivery of the aircraft a current approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual.

(b) The Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual required by paragraph (a) of this section must contain the following information:

(1) The operating limitations and information required to be furnished in an Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual or in manual material, markings, and placards, by the applicable regulations under which the airplane or rotorcraft was type certificated.

(2) The maximum ambient atmospheric temperature for which engine cooling was demonstrated must be stated in the performance information section of the Flight Manual, if the applicable regulations under which the aircraft was type certificated do not require ambient temperature on engine cooling operating limitations in the Flight Manual.

Weight and Balance
Neither of my airplanes is required to have a §21.5 “approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual” ergo, they are not required to have a W&B in the plane. You could also argue that “§23.1589 (a) The weight and location of each item of equipment that can be easily removed, relocated, or replaced and that is installed when the airplane was weighed under the requirement of §23.25.” does not require that an updated W&B be included in the AFM only that one must be provided by the manufacturer.

I am not aware of any FAR that requires that a current weight and balance be in the airplane if it is not required to have an approved AFM. However, since the list of things that an FAA inspector is looking for on a ramp check includes a W&B, most people carry it.

§23.1589 Loading information.
The following loading information must be furnished:

(a) The weight and location of each item of equipment that can be easily removed, relocated, or replaced and that is installed when the airplane was weighed under the requirement of §23.25.

(b) Appropriate loading instructions for each possible loading condition between the maximum and minimum weights established under §23.25, to facilitate the center of gravity remaining within the limits established under §23.23.

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