EASA vs. FAA Maintenance

Just what is a “Maintenance Release?” in FAA Terms?

For the Part 91/GA operator, the key regulation is 91.407. This reads in part: 


(a) No person may operate any aircraft that has undergone maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, or alteration unless— 

(1) It has been approved for return to service by a person authorized under 43.7; and 

(2) The maintenance record entry required by 43.9 or 43.11 has been made.

“The Maintenance Release” found in ICAO and EASA is more accurately translated as a “Return to Service” entry in FAA terms. Commercial operators have their own FAA approved Maintenance Program and procedures to follow in this case. 


Who Can Make this “Return to Service” in FAA Terms?

Follow me to 43.3 and 43.7. Here are the key parts to these regulations:


(g) Except for holders of a sport pilot certificate, the holder of a pilot certificate issued under part 61 may perform preventive maintenance on any aircraft owned or operated by that pilot which is not used under Part 121, 129, or 135 of this chapter. The holder of a sport pilot certificate may perform preventive maintenance on an aircraft owned or operated by that pilot and issued a special airworthiness certificate in the light-sport category.


(f) A person holding at least a private pilot certificate may approve an aircraft for return to service after performing preventive maintenance under the provisions of §43.3(g).

For all this drilling-down we have finally hit pay dirt! Any pilot who are not mechanics, with at least a Private Pilot license are authorized under Part 43 to perform “Preventive Maintenance” and sign off the “Return to Service”. Part 43 Appendix A, (c) has a list of “Preventive Maintenance” items. Here are a few for your reference.

  • Removal, installation, and repair of landing gear tires
  • Servicing landing gear shock struts by adding oil, air, or both
  • Replacing defective safety wiring or cotter keys
  • Replenishing hydraulic fluid in the hydraulic reservoir
  • Refinishing decorative coating of fuselage, balloon baskets, wings tail group surfaces (excluding balanced control surfaces), fairings, cowlings, landing gear, cabin, or cockpit interior when removal or disassembly of any primary structure or operating system is not required
  • Repairing upholstery and decorative furnishings of the cabin, cockpit, or balloon basket interior when the repairing does not require disassembly of any primary structure or operating system or interfere with an operating system or affect the primary structure of the aircraft
  • Making small simple repairs to fairings, nonstructural cover plates, cowlings, and small patches and reinforcements not changing the contour so as to interfere with proper air flow
  • Replacing safety belts
  • Replacing seats or seat parts with replacement parts approved for the aircraft, not involving disassembly of any primary structure or operating system
  • Replacing bulbs, reflectors, and lenses of position and landing lights
  • Cleaning or replacing fuel and oil strainers or filter elements
  • Replacing and servicing batteries
  • Removing, checking, and replacing magnetic chip detectors


Does This Mean I can do my own Database Updates?

For a Part 91/GA operator. 43.3 speaks directly to this issue. Comply with the conditions below and you are a “Go for pilot update.”


(k) Updates of databases in installed avionics meeting the conditions of this paragraph are not considered maintenance and may be performed by pilots provided:

(1) The database upload is:

(i) Initiated from the flight deck;

(ii) Performed without disassembling the avionics unit; and

(iii) Performed without the use of tools and/or special equipment.

(2) The pilot must comply with the certificate holder’s procedures or the manufacturer’s instructions.

(3) The holder of operating certificates must make available written procedures consistent with manufacturer’s instructions to the pilot that describe how to:

(i) Perform the database update; and

(ii) Determine the status of the data upload.

Note that in June of 2017, The FAA conducted a review of MMEL PL-98. As a result, MMEL relief for an out of currency navigation database while still allowing relief for an inoperative database. Take a look at InFO 17007 DATE: 6/15/17 Titled: Subject: Updated Information on Navigation Database Master Minimum Equipment List (MMEL) Relief for more details.

What Does This “Return to Service” Need to say to be legit?

The pilot is required to log each item they perform in the maintenance records of the aircraft in the detail required by 

43.9(a). This means:

  • A description (or reference to data acceptable to the Administrator) of work performed
  • The date of completion of the work performed
  • The name of the person performing the work if other than the person specified in paragraph (a)(4) of this section.

If the work performed on the aircraft, airframe, aircraft engine, propeller, appliance, or component part has been performed satisfactorily, the signature, certificate number, and kind of certificate held by the person approving the work. The signature constitutes the approval for return to service only for the work performed.

Who is Responsible for Checking that the “Release to Service is signed off? (Easy Question)

The OWNER or OPERATOR shall ENSURE that maintenance personnel make appropriate entries in the aircraft maintenance records (the aircraft maintenance log) indicating that the aircraft has been approved for return to service.  If the owner or operator does not check for this written, signed and dated entry for return to service, then there is a bad day experience…the pilot could be held in violation of 91.405

Here’s a couple more interesting factoids on pre-flighting the maintenance logs…

“OPERABLE CONDITION” means in a condition so as to operate efficiently and in the manner intended by the manufacturer.

The NTSB has ruled that a “MECHANICAL IRREGULARITY” is 

“Any deviation from the normal functioning of an aircraft component no matter how slight or momentary.”

So if I’m in an ICAO or EASA Country Why do they Make such a big deal of the “Maintenance Release” ?

EASA uses the ICAO “Maintenance Release” as the means by which to prove that the PIC has satisfied him/herself the jet is airworthy and has been “Returned to Service”.Follow this link to the document titled “SAFA Ramp Inspections Guidance Material, Version 2.0” This is the playbook for SAFA inspectors. On PDF page 113, Item A23 this specifically describes the Maintenance Release as the means for PIC verification of airworthiness. 

SAFA is built around Annex 6, Part 1 and is for commercial operators. SAFA is designed to create a “NO-FLY” list of airlines for the EU. This means that there are very little exact references that work for a private/GA operator in EASA. SAFA inspectors are “Given wide latitude” in determining the compliance when it comes to private/GA ops during these ramp inspections. My opinion is that this is why there is so much inconsistent application of the ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices toward GA aircraft in SAFA checks.

The wording lends one to think of a specific maintenance task and then return to service vice released for many flights for a number of days.

Annex 6, Part 2 Paragraph is the counterpart to Annex 6, Part 1 Paragraph 4.3.1 (Airworthiness)

Annex 6, Part 2 Paragraph 3.4.3 is the counterpart to Annex 6, Part 1 Paragraph 8.8 (Maintenance Release)


So as a Part 91/GA Operator, can I perform my own maintenance in ICAO or EASA countries and still be legit?

Yes and No. Yes to everything that you are approved to do as a pilot under 91.407, 43.3 and Appendix A to 43.3. This means at least a private pilot, preforming only preventive maintenance. EU #1321/2014, Article one exempts aircraft registered in a third country and not used by an EU operator, or has a ‘principal place of business’ inside the EU.

As a practical matter, anything outside of preventative maintenance inside EASA or ICAO you will need to have an internal major maintenance repair and alterations program or use the state’s system for maintenance. This means EASA Regulation (EU) No 1321/2014) and a Continuing Airworthiness Management Organization, CAMO with Part 145 certified operations using Part 66 certified technicians.

  • 1) ATP pilots can preform “Preventative Maintenance” worldwide
  • 2) Maintenance Release and Return to Service are almost interchangeable terms
  • 3) Maintenance in EASA usually requires a maintenance organization outside your own that employs type-rated technicians specific to your Make/Model of aircraft.
  • 4) Breaking down on the road is a painful experience