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Under FAA regulations, I know that at least a private pilot certificate must be held in order for a pilot to perform preventive maintenance on an aircraft.

May a pilot also get paid by someone else for performing that maintenance, and does the grade of pilot certificate make a difference? For example, is there a requirement to hold at least a commercial certificate to be compensated for the performance of preventive maintenance, or is preventive maintenance solely to be considered an incidental, non-compensatory privilege of any pilot certificate holder of private or higher grade regardless of that grade?

This hypothetical scenario is with the assumption that this is freelance and has no oversight by a certified mechanic. An example could be a fellow pilot casually offering to change your oil or replace a lightbulb for some monetary labor compensation.

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    $\begingroup$ All of it is "doing work for others for pay". You seem to be asking "where's the threshold where that goes from casual/allowed/unregulated, to needing all the formalities and apparatus of being an FBO"? $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 30 at 19:16
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First, it's a little too broad to say that a private pilot can perform preventive maintenance. The full wording in 14 CFR 43.3(g) is (emphasis mine):

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.

In other words, a pilot can't perform preventive maintenance on just any aircraft. The definition of "operate" in 1.1 could be stretched, I suppose, but the pilot has to have some degree of operational control over the aircraft. Another pilot without that control couldn't do preventive maintenance on your aircraft anyway, whether or not you were paying them.

Beyond that, the word "compensation" doesn't appear in part 43 so it seems not to be a factor in who can perform maintenance, preventive or otherwise. And common sense says that a pilot can be compensated because otherwise a part 91 ferry pilot wouldn't be allowed to top off hydraulic fluid or replace a landing light bulb (for example).

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    $\begingroup$ A commercial ferry pilot is exactly the scenario that brought this question to my mind. I think your point of the "owned or operated by that pilot" says it all. So yes, you can be paid for the work if you're employed by someone to fly the aircraft to begin with, but you can't just go around offering to replace everyone's landing lights for cash. Great answer. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen Mar 29 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ @RyanMortensen You might be able to, if you did a "I will replace your landing lights and taxi the plane" or somesuch bypass (speak to a lawyer however) $\endgroup$ – Yakk Mar 30 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ For the record, I'm not planning to do this. The question is for scenario purposes. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen Mar 30 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ The answer you linked says adding oil is not maintenance. It doesn't say changing oil is not maintenance. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Mar 31 at 4:19
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW Good catch, thanks! I've removed that. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 15 at 15:11
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Officially, or unofficially? As a rule government bureaucracy doesn't deal well with informal arrangements between friends, so officially I'm quite sure the FAA answer is no.

It's like asking the IRS if you can pay your neighbor to mow your lawn: The IRS would say yes, but they would expect a taxpayer ID and a cut in the form of taxes. To get that, you'd need a business license, to get that you'd need to show OSHA compliance, and so on, and so forth...

So again no, a pilot cannot "hold out" and charge a fee to perform aircraft maintenance unless they are also an A&P.

However, if you are friends, the preventative maintenance is within the scope of what is authorized for an owner/pilot to perform, and you invite him to your hangar to "help", (while you supervise) nobody will know whether or not you buy him lunch or slip him a crisp $20 for his trouble. Just check the work and know that if the drain plug pops out and your engine seizes in flight that it's on you. No finger pointing allowed.

I am not advocating breaking rules, but when you examine the ethics of a scenario as you have in this case, and you know in your heart of hearts that you are in full compliance with the intent, then don't trouble yourself asking for permission from strangers, or from a bureaucracy intended to safeguard rather than restrict our liberty.

A bureaucrat will almost always take the safe way out and say no, so in these sort of cases I advocate the military's old policy of "don't ask, don't tell".

ADDENDUM:

From a couple of the comments it is apparent that my answer was not interpreted in the manner I intended. The point I was trying to make is, that in matters of regulatory compliance it is important to understand the intent and apply some critical thinking to discern what might be acceptable when you are in a gray area.

To further illustrate let me offer a couple scenarios with a bit more detail –

SCENARIO #1:

Scott is a 20 year old who just earned his private pilot’s license. He is trying to build hours towards his commercial, and pumps gas at the local airfield to earn money towards flying. He is a hard worker, loves aviation, and is well liked by the local pilots. Lately he has “casually offered” to change the oil for some of his customers, hinting at an expectation of being paid.

Is this OK? NO! As I indicated above, Scott is holding himself out to perform preventative maintenance functions on aircraft where he is not the owner operator. The regulations are clearly intended to prevent such shade tree mechanics from compromising safety and undercutting licensed A&P mechanics, while still allowing owner/operators to perform routine and minor operations. At no time did I intend to suggest this might be OK, and that “nobody will know...”

SCENARIO #2:

Tom is a 70 year old retired engineer and Cessna 172 owner. He is in good health, but less mobile than when he was young, and had a knee replaced last year. Carl is a 35 year old ex-military pilot who is now a first officer for a regional airline. He also owns a 172, and rents a hangar right next to Tom. Over the last year Tom and Carl have become friends, and often swap flying stories and share tools as they do as much work on their planes as allowed.

Carl noticed the last time he watched Tom change his oil that with his replacement knee it was very awkward for him to get down underneath the engine to access the drain plug. “Why don’t you let me help you out there Tom?” Carl casually offers the next time they are changing oil. “I will get that drain plug for you if I can have a cold Coke out of your hangar mini-fridge” he jokes. Tom semi-reluctantly gives in, watches and verifies that Carl did the work correctly, then fetches him a soft drink as he expresses his thanks.

Is this OK? Technically Carl performed maintenance for compensation on an aircraft where he was not the owner/operator, and he is not a licensed A&P mechanic. But really, do you think this is actually the kind of scenario that the FAA is concerned with preventing? Don’t you think they might have bigger fish to fry?

Tom could have refused the offer. Or he could have written a letter to the FSDO, or AMDO requesting permission. Or he could have gone on the internet and asked random strangers what he should do.

But if I was Tom, or Carl, I would simply do it and not lose a minute of sleep wondering if the FAA will find out and I might go to jail for displeasing my government. No ethical dilemma or safety concerns here, the intent is met, but maybe that’s just me...

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    $\begingroup$ Aviation is a heavily regulated field. If you perform maintenance on an aircraft, then you're legally liable if that airplane falls out of the sky. People can and have gone to prison over things like this. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Mar 30 at 5:59
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    $\begingroup$ "I am not advocating breaking rules..." That is debatable, to put it generously, especially at the point where the offer of "help" is conditional on receiving compensation for doing so. Any proposition with the phrase "nobody will know" in it should be considered very carefully. $\endgroup$ – sdenham Mar 30 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ I feel this is just wrong in the aviation case. The lawn example has no downside or danger. You can't in any way compare that to something like - aircraft - building bridges - running nuclear attack submarines - and so on. It's more of a counter-example that shows why you can't fudge around like this in the aviation example. $\endgroup$ – Fattie Mar 30 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Fattie " The lawn example has no downside or danger" So why do US Emergency medical departments treat about 85,000 lawnmower-related injuries per year. Compare with about 1,000 non-fatal General Aviation accidents per year. I don't think the average non-fatal GA accident injures 85 people ... (refs pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29395756 and statista.com/statistics/1031941/us-general-aviation-accidents/…) $\endgroup$ – alephzero Mar 30 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero difference being, lawn care mistakes have immediate effect on the lawn care worker... wheras aviation maintenance mistakes cause delayed effect on innocent third parties. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 30 at 19:13
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Pondlife's reply above was correct. The person performing preventative maintenance cannot simply do so on any aircraft; it must be one that he or she owns or operates. Operational control is the standard by which operation is determined. If the pilot has operational control by virtue of flying the aircraft, or causing it to be operated, then he or she would qualify.

The regulation does not stipulate issues of compensation or hire for aircraft maintenance. There is no commercial mechanic certificate, vs. a private mechanic certificate. Likewise, there is no commercial preventative maintenance, vs. private preventative maintenance.

Can one get paid to perform preventative maintenance? Sure. For example, one might own a Cessna 172 which is on leaseback to a local flying club. One might get paid to fuel airplanes, wash airplanes, and even to do the oil change on the airplane in the course of one's duties at the flying club. One can also perform maintenance under the supervision of the holder of a mechanic certificate, and do it for compensation or hire. This is perfectly legal.

As always, however, the devil is in the details, and the specifics of a particular situation matter.

Regardless, bear in mind that even as a private pilot performing maintenance, you're still beholden to perform it to the same standard as any certificated mechanic. You must do it to the same standard, with the same tools, practices, and procedures called out by the manufacturer and as standard practices and techniques (eg, AC 43.13). You're also responsible for the same maintenance entries and record keeping expected and required of a certificated mechanic.

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