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Minimum Equipment Lists

excerpted from the Student Pilot Network (SPN) Newsletter
See more SPN articles at http://www.ufly.com/about.html

I have always been a little confused about the best way to find out if I can fly with a broken piece of equipment in my airplane. If the airspeed indicator is broken can you still fly? What about the clock? Do you see what I mean?

Confused in Kansas

Dear Andy,

Whether you can legally fly an aircraft with inoperative equipment is covered pretty well by Federal Aviation Regulation 91.213, "Inoperative instruments and equipment."

The first part of this regulation talks a lot about Minimum Equipment Lists. Basically, an MEL lists all the equipment in a specific aircraft and tells whether the pilot can fly that aircraft if a specific item on the list is inoperative.

Most general aviation trainers don't have MELs, so you have to read down to subparagraph (d), which covers aircraft that don't have an MEL.

To cut through the FAR's legalese, you cannot legally fly an aircraft if the inoperative equipment is among the instruments or equipment required for VFR flight by FAR 91.205. In other words, if any of the following items don't work, you can't fly the airplane.

  1. Airspeed indicator.

  2. Altimeter.

  3. Magnetic direction indicator [compass].

  4. Tachometer for each engine.

  5. Oil pressure gauge for each engine using pressure system.

  6. Temperature gauge for each liquid-cooled engine.

  7. Oil temperature gauge for each air-cooled engine.

  8. Manifold pressure gauge for each altitude engine.

  9. Fuel gauge indicating the quantity of fuel in each tank.

  10. Landing gear position indicator, if the aircraft has a retractable landing gear.

  11. For small civil airplanes certificated after March 11, 1996*an approved aviation red or aviation white anticollision light system. In the event of failure of any light of the anticollision light system, operation of the aircraft may continue to a location where repairs or replacement can be made.

  12. If the aircraft is operated for hire over water and beyond power-off gliding distance from shore, approved flotation gear readily available to each occupant and at least one pyrotechnic signaling device.

  13. An approved safety belt with an approved metal-to-metal latching device for each occupant 2 years of age or older.

  14. For small civil airplanes manufactured after July 18, 1978, an approved shoulder harness for each front seat.

  15. An emergency locator transmitter, if required by 91.207.

  16. For normal, utility, and acrobatic category airplanes with a seating configuration, excluding pilot seats, of 9 or less, manufactured after December 12, 1986, a shoulder harness for -

  17. For rotorcraft manufactured after September 16, 1992, a shoulder harness for each seat that meets the requirements of 27.2 or 29.2 of this chapter in effect on September 16, 1991.
And if you're flying at night, add these items to the list:
  1. Instruments and equipment specified in paragraph (b) of this section.

  2. Approved position lights.

  3. An approved aviation red or aviation white anticollision light system on all U.S.-registered civil aircraft.

  4. If the aircraft is operated for hire, one electric landing light.

  5. An adequate source of electrical energy for all installed electrical and radio equipment.

  6. One spare set of fuses, or three spare fuses of each kind required, that are accessible to the pilot in flight.
And if you're flying IFR, you add these to the list, too:
  1. Instruments and equipment specified in paragraph (b) [the instruments and equipment required for VFR] of this section, and, for night flight, instruments and equipment specified in paragraph (c) of this section.

  2. Two-way radio communications system and navigational equipment appropriate to the ground facilities to be used.

  3. Gyroscopic rate-of-turn indicator

  4. Slip-skid indicator.

  5. Sensitive altimeter adjustable for barometric pressure.

  6. A clock displaying hours, minutes, and seconds with a sweep-second pointer or digital presentation.

  7. Generator or alternator of adequate capacity.

  8. Gyroscopic pitch and bank indicator (artificial horizon).

  9. Gyroscopic direction indicator (directional gyro or equivalent).
What items on these lists must work before you can fly depends on the type of flying you plan to do. For example, let's say the attitude indicator is busted. You can make a VFR flight because the attitude indicator is required for IFR flight, not VFR flight. The same thing is true for the clock and turn coordinator.

But, before you fly an aircraft with inoperative equipment that's not required for the type of flight you plant to make, FAR 91.213 requires the maintenance technician to remove or deactivate the offending instrument or control and affix a placard to the instrument or control that says "INOPERATIVE."

Finally, FAR 91.213 requires you-the rated and current pilot-to determine "that the inoperative instrument or equipment does not constitute a hazard to the aircraft."