Recertification Plans Approved for ex-Avantair Piaggios

 - December 1, 2013, 2:30 AM

Piaggio Avantis formerly in the Avantair fleet, stripped of their airworthiness certificates (ACs) by the FAA in the wake of the August bankruptcy of the Clearwater, Fla.-based fractional program operator, now have approved paths to recertification. Piaggio America, the Palm Beach, Fla.-based representative of Italy’s Piaggio Aero, the twin turboprop’s manufacturer, and Sky Limo, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based aviation services provider, have independently developed FAA-approved protocols and completed restoration work that have earned a return of ACs to three former Avantair fleet Avantis.

Sky Limo was awarded restored ACs for two Avantis (issued on September 10 for N306MS and October 24 for N197MS), while Piaggio America, working with Stevens Aviation in Greenville, S.C., won AC restoration for another (S/N 1214 on October 18). The FAA’s Special Emphasis Investigation Team took the lead in establishing procedures for returning the ACs, according to participants.

“The FAA met with Piaggio America to discuss the manufacturer’s plans regarding a proposed factory re-certification program,” an agency spokesperson said, confirming the restoration of the three ACs. “Sky Limo used a process it developed in-house to bring the aircraft to airworthy condition.”

Return-to-Service Processes

Piaggio America’s process employs a team of Piaggio factory-based maintenance experts that performs an inspection requiring 80 hours at a factory-authorized service facility, during which the scope of work required to restore airworthiness is determined. Aircraft owners put up a deposit to pay for the inspection. (Piaggio America declined to cite costs, but said the entire amount goes to Piaggio Aero to pay the inspectors.) Piaggio America informs the FAA upon completion of the maintenance and repairs, performed by the service center staff, and the agency then has the option of inspecting the aircraft or simply reviewing the paperwork and, if approved, reinstating its airworthiness certificate.

“We now have a positive and proven way for all of the owners of the former Avantair aircraft to get back in the air,” said John Bingham, Piaggio America president and CEO.

Stevens Aviation performed the work on the Avanti. Stevens president and COO Neal McGrail noted that the facility performed completion work on Avantis when Piaggio America was located in Greenville, “so we have OEM-quality services.”

Under the Piaggio plan, restoration work will be performed at the authorized service center closest to the aircraft’s location. Aircraft will need a ferry permit and, likely, maintenance and repairs to make them flyable. To meet anticipated demand, Stevens has “invested in a little more equipment for our mobile units so we can do multiple airplanes and get them in a ferryable state,” said McGrail.

Bingham said Piaggio Aero has “a good number of people lined up to go through the process.”

Sky Limo’s restoration procedure involves determining the flight time of all 161 time-limited parts on the Avanti and replacing them as necessary; FAA concerns about improper tracking of accumulated time on these components was a factor in the agency’s revocation of the ACs of all 56 former fleet Avantis. Steven Markhoff, Sky Limo’s president and chief counsel, said the first aircraft “took us just shy of two months to prove the traceability back to birth” on the time-limited parts, using “a team of six people working on it full time.” (Sky One Holdings, now operating as Sky Limo LLC, purchased Sky Limo on August 1, when Markhoff came aboard.)

Sky Limo manages five Avantis owned by Midsouth Services, leased to Avantair and repossessed before the bankruptcy. The two aircraft that have now been recertified were flown to Fort Lauderdale in June, and in July the FAA inspected the aircraft in collaboration with Sky Limo and maintenance experts from Piaggio Aero and Piaggio America, Markhoff said. Unlike many airplanes in the former fleet, the Sky Limo aircraft were all flyable, and Markhoff estimates the total cost of the two restorations was less than $100,000.

Sky Limo expects all five of Midsouth’s aircraft to regain their ACs by year-end and plans to place them on its charter certificate; Sky Limo Air Charter is an Argus platinum-rated operator. N306MS was placed on the company’s Part 135 certificate on November 5 and began providing charter service the following day. As for concerns potential charter customers might have about the safety of flying on former Avantair Piaggios, given their recent history, Markhoff said, “These airplanes, having been in the spotlight, are some of the cleanest in the industry. Everyone and their mother has gone through them.”

Sky Limo is willing to provide restoration advice to owners and to discuss managing their Piaggios, Markhoff said, but is not seeking to provide AC restoration services.

Options Going Forward

FAA inspections of Avantair’s fleet conducted during its grounding this past summer found many aircraft had been “cannibalized” for parts. Though original engines and propellers are considered part of each aircraft and can be reclaimed if installed on another airframe, owners who’ve had other parts stripped from their airplanes have little recourse to get them returned, according to legal experts. Some of the Avantis may cost more to restore than they would be worth, and will likely be parted out, those familiar with the former fleet have said.

Owners who want to get a sense of the work and cost required to reclaim their ACs should start with having a qualified mechanic perform a thorough visual inspection, Markhoff suggested. “See the serial numbers of the life-limited parts installed, go back to the aircraft’s records and see if the serial number matches the records. That’s step one,” he said. “If they do match, that’s good. If not, you have a part that doesn’t belong there.” It can be less expensive to replace relatively inexpensive parts with questionable histories than to track their service history, he noted.

The FAA declined to comment on whether it would codify an approved process that any owner could follow to regain recertification, but other providers could offer recertification services. For example, McGrail said Stevens could work directly with Piaggio owners to restore their ACs. “We have the right tooling, so we’re all set,” he said.