It’s inevitable that some airplanes will experience some form of damage during their lives.  It could be as benign as accidentally pushing a plane into the back end of a hangar and causing some minor rippling of the elevator skin to a full-fledged gear-up landing that caused a prop strike, bent firewall, and substantial damage to the underside of the aircraft.

Following the event, assuming the aircraft wasn’t written off, repairs will begin. Obviously, the shop you choose for this task is of ultra-importance.  How much experience do they have?  Have they fixed this type of damage before?  Do they know how to work on the subject airplane?  What kind of documentation will they provide?  These and other questions must be asked and satisfactorily answered before committing to one shop over another. 

General aviation repair stations are not created equal.  Some shops do fantastic work and well, there are the others.  Some provide extensive documentation while others minimize the write-ups and just cover the basics.  In many cases, as an aircraft owner – and future seller – how the aircraft log book write-up is made should be as important as the actual work itself.  Ask for thorough and complete documentation so that there is no question as to how the repair was performed. 

If you’re a buyer you should look at repair documentation carefully too.  But – because many airplane buyers are a little gun shy – they often look at the repair documentation in the wrong light.  They believe short log entries equate to minor damage and repairs and that extensive documentation means the plane suffered substantial damage.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Let me repeat that – nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, I would go as far as to assert that if the write-up is short and leaves out detail the shop may be trying to hide the extent of the damage.  And, if they take the time to give a lot of detail to the work performed, materials used, and processes followed, they are showing that they believe in the quality of the repair and have nothing to hide.

So, if you’re looking a plane with prior damage history, make no assumptions about the quality of work performed.  Read the documentation carefully, call the shop that made the repairs and ask lots of questions, and have the mechanic you’re using for the pre-purchase inspection spend quality time reviewing the repair and documentation.  And should you come across a well-documented repair be thankful that the shop performing the work paid attention to the details.

What do you think?