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The courtesy (under-wing) lighting and the rear seat overhead map light were on the same switch. I didn't like having the bright outside light on while my passenger read his magazine, so I separated the lights to two different switches. What will happen when this is discovered during my next annual? And can a certified mechanic ground my airplane for it?

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  • $\begingroup$ When you say you separated the switch to two different switches, was the second switch in use for something else, or was it a blank switch? $\endgroup$
    – Ginger
    May 27, 2021 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE! If I understand correctly, you have two questions here: does a mechanic have the authority to ground your aircraft; and does your wiring change require a mechanic's approval? Is that accurate? $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    May 27, 2021 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ Is it worth differentiating between taking action to "ground" your airplane vs refusing to approve by not signing off the annual inspection? Because in my mind they are distinctly different things. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2021 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife My guess is that any wiring change not in accordance with the official aircraft manuals should never have the approval of a qualified mechanic and therefore lead to the aircraft failing its annual until corrected/reverted. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    May 28, 2021 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting Yes, that makes sense; I've mentioned it at the end of my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    May 28, 2021 at 17:01

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The short answer is that a mechanic can't ground a plane. There are lots of discussions online about this, and the typical scenario seems to be that a mechanic "refuses to sign off an annual" or something similar. (There are other scenarios too, where the mechanic refuses to return the aircraft and/or logbooks to the owner because of a dispute over payment or work performed, but that's a legal issue, not an aviation one.)


AOPA has two useful articles (here, here) on this topic, written by Mike Busch (a well known A&P and author). He says:

Who can ground an aircraft?

FAR 91.7 forbids a PIC from flying an aircraft that is unairworthy, although FAR 21.197 (Special Flight Permits) allows the FAA to grant special dispensation to fly an unairworthy aircraft (usually for repositioning purposes). There is no FAR that empowers a mechanic to ground an aircraft. Mechanics are not the safety police.

When it comes to signing off on maintenance, there are two cases: required inspections (e.g. annuals), and general maintenance (e.g. an oil change). Required inspections are governed by 14 CFR 43.11.

43.11(a)(4) says:

[...] if the aircraft is found to be airworthy and approved for return to service, the following or a similarly worded statement—“I certify that this aircraft has been inspected in accordance with (insert type) inspection and was determined to be in airworthy condition.”

43.11(a)(5) says:

[...] if the aircraft is not approved for return to service because of needed maintenance, noncompliance with applicable specifications, airworthiness directives, or other approved data, the following or a similarly worded statement—“I certify that this aircraft has been inspected in accordance with (insert type) inspection and a list of discrepancies and unairworthy items dated (date) has been provided for the aircraft owner or operator.”

In other words, even if the mechanic finds that the aircraft isn't airworthy, they're still required to make and sign a logbook entry to document that. The key point that Mike Busch makes is that what happens next is up to the owner, not the mechanic:

The owner must correct those discrepancies before the aircraft may flown. He is free to have them corrected by any mechanic he chooses. There’s no need for the inspecting mechanic to look at the aircraft again. The next annual comes due in 12 calendar months.

The owner might ask the same mechanic who did the inspection to make repairs, or a different mechanic at the same airport. Or they might ask the FAA for a ferry permit to move the aircraft to another location for maintenance. Or they might just fly the aircraft anyway, knowing it isn't airworthy.

As for other maintenance that isn't a required inspection, 43.9(a)(4) says (emphasis mine):

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.

Here's Mike Busch's commentary on that:

Those two sentences bear careful reading. The first sentence makes it explicitly clear that a mechanic’s signature on a 43.9 logbook entry does not signify anything about the airworthiness of the aircraft. It signifies only that the work the mechanic completed was performed satisfactorily. [...]

The second sentence makes it clear that the mechanic’s signature does not constitute an approval for return to service for the entire aircraft (the way an annual inspection signoff does). It constitutes approval only for the work the mechanic performed.

So coming back to your specific wiring scenario, if the mechanic performs a required inspection and determines that the change makes the aircraft unairworthy, they would document it as a discrepancy per 43.11. That means the aircraft is not airworthy, but how to make it airworthy is your decision, not the mechanic's decision.

Finally, if you're not sure how a mechanic would react to your wiring change you should probably find out. It's possible that the aircraft is already unairworthy, but that depends on a lot of details: type of aircraft, certified vs experimental, any applicable ADs etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ and of course after the fixes are done, another inspection is needed to certify the aircraft as airworthy. So it's best to have things you know to be out of spec fixed BEFORE you have the aircraft inspected. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    May 28, 2021 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ I would say that adding a switch counts as a minor alteration and only needs an A&P's signature. If it isn't in the major alterations list in Appendix A, it's a minor by definition. I don't think adding a switch meets the criteria. The AI will see the change, go and check and see of an A&P made a log entry, and if not just inspect it and sign it off if satisfied with the work (and charging for it), or add it as a discrepancy if not. The biggest problem here is the AI now knows the owner likes to do home projects on the sly and will be wondering what other surprises are hidden in the plane. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    May 28, 2021 at 18:35
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Terrible misinformation on here. The truth is YES an A&P automatically grounds a plane when and if he does not release it as airworthy. If he signs log book that the plane is not airworthy THEN It is illegal for any pilot or owner to fly any plane that is not airworthy. A plane with a log entry it is not airworthy is illegal to fly. It is effectively grounded. NOW if the A&P has not released the plane as airworthy the owner now must get FSDO permission to fly that plane in a ferry permit or have plane fixed where it is some way that is legal. . In addition, if for any reason the A&P suspects that the pilot or owner may fly the plane even after it is found not airworthy, he can contact the FSDO and have a PI do a ramp inspection and ground the plane permanently on the spot. SO when can a A&P write a determination it is not airworthy? After any repair or maintenance where they have identified a non airworthy condition of the plane the owner does not want fixed. It must then be recorded in log book MAKING the plane at that instant, grounded for all intense purposes, since it is illegal for anyone to fly it without being airworthy. The owner pilot will need FSDO permission to ferry or fix plane another way that is legal . NOW you have the real truth. It is NOT up to the pilot if he wants to fly a plane a A&P has determined is not airworthy. IT is up to FSDO and it is illegal to fly unless they give a ferry permit, or unless the problem has been corrected and another A&P signs off it has been corrected, followed by a I/A return to service. Because only a I/A can sign off any discrepancy that has been repaired as passing inspection and able to return to service, AFTER it was found to have been not airworthy by a A&P. Another A&P repair alone can not return a plane to service after a non airworthy discrepancy has been noted in the log by a A&P. A&P can only return to service 100hr inspections and regular maintenance of planes that are still airworthy, withing the annual time period of a planes Last 1 yr airworthiness authorization. by doing so ALL A&Ps do is prove a plane is still airworthy within the annual period. . They can not return to service any repaired discrepancies on a plane that is already documented as not airworthy. Once a plane is stated as not airworthy, only a I/A can return to service, or a DER or the FAA. Period.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi Joseph, and welcome to Aviation.SE. What you've posted is a bit of a wall of text; please add paragraph breaks to make it more easily readable. Also, you make a lot of statements, but the current text doesn't provide any sources or references, making it all "somebody on the internet said that..." at this point. While I suspect that most or all of your statements can be supported by the applicable FARs, somebody who's looking for an authoritative answer doesn't have much to work from at this point from your post. It would help if you add links to the relevant regulations. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Nov 25, 2023 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Nov 26, 2023 at 6:55

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