Failure To Communicate

Resources > Savvy Stories > Failure To Communicate

Harry had been flying his Cirrus SR22 trouble free when its annual inspection came due. He chose a Texas shop that was ultra-experienced working on Cirrus airplanes and had a great reputation, and didn’t expect any big surprises.

The plane’s turbonormalized Continental IO-550-N engine was a bit past its recommended 2,000-hour TBO, but it was running like a fine Swiss watch. Harry was a firm believer in condition-based maintenance, so his plan was to continue the engine in service until there was some good reason to overhaul it. He explained this with the shop’s head mechanic, who seemed fine with it.

The shop proceeded to inspect the airplane, and then presented Harry with a 15-page document titled “Work Order/Customer Estimate” with a bottom-line total that took Harry’s breath away: $34,683.78. Reading through the 91 enumerated discrepancies in the document, Harry discovered to his horror that Item #29 stated “the engine has 3 low cylinders and will need to be overhauled or replaced due to total time in service.” The cost estimate for this particular item was $6,518.80 which Harry then realized covered only the removal and replacement of the engine. The cost of overhauling or replacing the engine was NOT included in the work order, and that would add an additional $40,000 to $50,000 to the cost of returning the SR22 to flying status.

Harry couldn’t understand why the shop’s head mechanic had indicated he was okay with the engine being past TBO, but then condemned the engine to being overhauled or replaced because of “3 low cylinders.” Harry understood that cylinders are just bolt-on components that are routinely replaced without any necessity of pulling the engine out of the aircraft and tearing it down.

Harry contacted the mechanic and asked him to explain what was going on with Item #29 of the work order. The mechanic explained that it was shop policy to refuse to perform any “unscheduled maintenance” on a past-TBO engine. Harry had never heard of such a policy and asked the mechanic when it went into effect and why. “After we got sued,” explained the mechanic, who went on to make it clear that the shop’s policy was non-negotiable.

At this point, Harry became understandably upset, and approached Savvy Aviation for help. We generally don’t take on new SavvyMx managed maintenance clients midway through an annual inspection—especially a contentious one—but once we understood Harry’s terrible predicament and the shop’s unreasonable policy, we took pity on Harry and decided to get involved.

Our first step was to ask the head mechanic for more information about the “3 low cylinders.” What precisely was wrong with them? The mechanic told us the cylinders had compressions below the master orifice no-go threshold with burned exhaust valves verified by borescope inspection.

We were a bit skeptical about half the engine’s cylinders developing burned exhaust valves since the previous annual, so we asked to see the borescope images. The shop provided the images, and when we examined them we couldn’t see any evidence of burned valves.

Continental’s guidance in situations like this—low compressions but unremarkable borescope results—is to fly the aircraft for at least 45 minutes and repeat the compression test. (In the past, we’ve seen IO-550-N cylinders that originally tested 38/80 magically become 72/80 on the retest after flying for an hour.) So we asked the shop to agree to have the airplane be flown and the cylinders retested in accordance with Continental’s guidance, but the shop flat refused and reiterated its insistence that the engine be overhauled or replaced before it could receive an airworthy sign-off.

We advised Harry that the best way to break this deadlock was to direct the shop not to do anything to the engine, accept an unairworthy annual sign-off with a discrepancy for the engine, obtain a ferry permit from the FSDO, and fly the airplane to another shop willing to clear the discrepancy. He agreed to this approach and we gave the shop its marching orders accordingly.

At this point, we turned our attention to chipping away at the other discrepancies on the shop’s work order, and negotiating them down to a minimal list of things that were necessary to make the aircraft safe to make the ferry flight. After consultation with the owner, we also approved a number of additional appropriate repairs in order to take advantage of the shop’s exceptional Cirrus expertise. We worked to find alternate lower-cost sources of parts required for some of these repairs, in one case locating a needed right hand engine cooling baffle assembly for $1,000 less than what the shop quoted.

By the time we were done horse-trading with the shop, we had whittled the original $34,683.78 repair estimate—an $80,000 estimate if you include the mandated engine overhaul or replacement—to about $14,000. The shop provided an unairworthy annual sign-off with two listed airworthiness discrepancies:

  • Three low-compression cylinders in need of further investigation in accordance with Continental guidance
  • Cracked right hand engine cooling baffle assembly (for which we had already procured the replacement part to be installed by the next shop)

The Texas shop—who by now was anxious to get this airplane out of its hangar and get paid for its work—cooperated with us to obtain a ferry permit from the local FSDO. The plane was ferried uneventfully to another shop in Louisiana where the three suspect cylinders were retested and only one flunked the compression test and was replaced. The Louisiana shop also replaced the cracked cooling baffle assembly, approved the aircraft for return to service, and Harry was back in the air.

Harry’s decision to get Savvy involved saved him about $60,000 on this annual-from-hell. A SavvyMx subscription costs $750/year for piston singles like the SR22, and wound up rescuing Harry from a shop that seemed to have him over a barrel and saved him enough to pay for the service for the next 80 years.

Although this was one of the most difficult and painful ordeals Savvy has had to deal with, we almost always save our clients far more in reduced maintenance expenses than the annual subscription cost. Often a LOT more.

Wouldn’t you benefit from having Savvy represent you in your dealings with shops and mechanics and help level the playing field? Learn more about SavvyMx.

You bought a plane to fly it, not stress over maintenance.

At Savvy Aviation, we believe you shouldn’t have to navigate the complexities of aircraft maintenance alone. And you definitely shouldn’t be surprised when your shop’s invoice arrives.

Savvy Aviation isn’t a maintenance shop – we empower you with the knowledge and expert consultation you need to be in control of your own maintenance events – so your shop takes directives (not gives them). Whatever your maintenance needs, Savvy has a perfect plan for you: