Chris Horsten is the managing director of the Canadian Light Sport Aircraft Association, an organization devoted to owners and pilots of AULA, LSA, and other similar aircraft. Chris is also the owner of Sport Aircraft Canada, a distributor of aircraft and avionics for the AULA and LSA markets. Chris can be reached at email@example.com.
Claude Roy is a retired RCAF officer with over 35 years and over 6 000 hours of experience as a flight instructor. He also operated his own ultra-light flight school in the Ottawa area for 23 years (1997–2019).
Acronyms used in this article:
- AULA — Advanced ultra-light aeroplane
- BULA — Basic ultra-light aeroplane
- CARs — Canadian Aviation Regulations
- FFFF or FFF Form — Fit for Flight Form
- POH — Pilot’s operating handbook
- TC — Transport Canada
An advanced ultra-light aeroplane (AULA) is defined as:
An “advanced ultra-light aeroplane” means an aeroplane that has a type design that is in compliance with the standards specified in the manual entitled Design Standards for Advanced Ultra-light Aeroplanes (section 101.01, Subpart 1 of Part I of the Canadian Aviation Regulations.)
The Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association of Canada (LAMAC) created the design standards, which have remained fundamentally unchanged since they were introduced in 1988. The rules are simple, flexible and provide for the owner to apply them in a reduced regulatory way that suits the category. This flexibility comes with great responsibility for the AULA owner and pilot.
Each new AULA applicant requires a manufacturer’s prescribed maintenance program. There is no standard for what that manual must contain, other than it should be adequate to allow the owner to keep their plane fit for flight (airworthy), and does not contain language that would describe it outside of the design standard parameters. As some aircraft might be registered in several categories, care must be taken to ensure that the manufacturer’s maintenance and flight requirements are the final word, as there are many user groups and social media pages which might influence owners to deviate. Over the years, the complexity of AULAs has increased, along with the maintenance requirements. Owners may do well to seek professional help if they do not possess the skills necessary to properly maintain the aeroplane.
A pilot’s operating handbook (POH) is not required. The manufacturer’s responsibility is to make sure that through whatever means, all pertinent information is available to the pilot. This can be achieved by placards or a POH, or a combination of the two. However, almost all new AULAs are built to American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards, which include a POH, and also reflects the more sophisticated nature of many of the AULAs.
In this article, we’re examining the Fit for Flight Form and what it means to a prospective buyer and the seller of an AULA. Unfortunately, most owners don’t consider the FFF Form until it’s time to sell. In fact, the Ultra-light Aeroplane Transition Strategy clearly states in section 3.6 Owner Responsibility:
The owner of an advanced ultra-light aeroplane shall maintain the aeroplane in a “fit for flight” condition by adhering to the Manufacturer Specified Maintenance Program.
This statement sometimes causes confusion and results in a misinterpretation as to what “fit for flight” means, such as: If the wings are off and the aeroplane has not been flown in some time, is it fit for flight? What if the engine or prop is off? Can an FFF status be ascertained if the aeroplane is not completely assembled and ready for flight? If an older aeroplane has low hours, can the owner defer maintenance requirements on the basis that they aren’t worn out yet? The absence of clear answers to specific questions often leaves owners wanting for clarity, or applying their own interpretation. When in doubt, owners and pilots are advised to contact their regional Transport Canada office. Organizations like the Canadian Light Sport Aircraft Association, whose focus is solely on AULA, LSA, and other aircraft built to ASTM standards, can also be helpful with related questions.
When buying a used AULA, a good place for a buyer to start is with the documentation provided with the aeroplane. How did the owner document the maintenance requirements? Since there is no requirement for a log book, the buyer may have to establish a timeline and determine if all the mandatory actions, service bulletins, in addition to the regularly scheduled maintenance, have been completed. Some common additions which may not be approved include floats, skis, or ballistic recovery systems. Any changes to the original design as defined by its Type Definition require the manufacturer’s written permission. These changes cannot alter the original Type Definition or result in the aeroplane being in conflict with the AULA design standards.
Some manufacturers may expect owners to seek a letter of authorization (LOA) for even small changes, while others may not. It is always in the owner’s best interest to maintain a line of communication with the manufacturer and seek guidance before making any alterations. In addition to documenting changes, owners should keep copies even after the sale. If a change is considered minor, the manufacturer’s response should be noted in the aircraft records along with the details of the change. Ultimately, it is the owner’s responsibility to demonstrate that the aeroplane continues to conform. The FFF Form requires the vendor to certify that no modifications have been made without the manufacturer’s written permission.
Unlike certified or amateur-built aircraft, AULAs do not need to file an Annual Airworthiness Information Report. It is the responsibility of the owner to document all the aircraft maintenance and deem the aeroplane airworthy. Some owners mistakenly believe they can play catch-up just prior to a sale. This is false, as the Ultra-light Aeroplane Transition Strategy clearly states that the aircraft must be maintained in an ongoing fit-for-flight status.
Proper documentation includes recording damage history and the remedy to repair it. Sometimes an owner will make an unauthorized repair for economic reasons. Sometimes the owner may feel they are qualified to make a repair. In one case, a pilot who damaged his wingtip was in dispute with the manufacturer about the repair cost and expectations. He elected to hire some local “experts” to make a repair and did not document it in the log book. His actions not only disqualified it as an AULA, but exposed himself and those who did the work to a future liability.
When an owner decides to part with the aircraft, this is not the time to be asking, “Can I honestly sign off on the FFF Form?” Experience has shown that often the vendor or purchaser will refuse to sign the form. In some cases, a broker may refuse to participate in or witness the sale. This should be a red flag for any buyer. It becomes very troubling when a purchaser’s strong desire to own the aircraft (a deal I can’t pass up) will influence them into accepting an aeroplane that is not fit for flight, and therefore falsifying documents. Some obvious cases include: disassembled aircraft, removed engine, or having undocumented/unapproved modifications. Clearly, anything that does not permit the vendor from signing off that all required actions have been completed, and that the Type Definition has not been compromised, needs to be investigated further and rectified before the transaction takes place.
Although the form is quite simple and concise, there is a fear that it contains language that would create an unwanted liability to the vendor after the sale. In fact, signing the form does not increase the vendor’s risk of being sued or of being found liable (that risk is already present as it is for any aircraft) inherent in any transaction. The owner’s best defence is to follow the manufacturer’s prescribed maintenance program and, if the owner has completed all actions expected of them to properly maintain the aeroplane, they will likely be able to provide documentation of the service history as stated in section 3.6 Owner Responsibility:
Section 3.6 Owner Responsibility: The owner of an advanced ultra-light aeroplane shall maintain appropriate records for the aeroplane which must include scheduled maintenance, mandatory action, modifications, and accident repairs.
If, however, a vendor has little or no documentation, then the aircraft is suspect and the buyer should reject the sale.
What is the purpose of the FFF Form?
The FFF Form is TC’s way of ensuring that the onus falls on the parties in the sale to ensure that the aeroplane continues to conform to the manufacturer’s Type Definition, and that it has been properly maintained. TC has neither endorsed or approved any aspect of the aircraft and relies solely on the manufacturer’s assertion that the aeroplane meets the design standard, and that the owner has completed the appropriate actions to maintain it. The end objective is to ensure that these passenger-carrying aircraft meet a standard that is worthy of that privilege.
There are many misconceptions about liability when it comes to signing off on the FFF Form. Here are some things that the form does and doesn’t do:
What the FFF Form does:
- Records that the responsibility for all maintenance prior to the sale has been formally accepted by the seller.
- Records that the responsibility for all maintenance following the sale has been formally accepted by the buyer.
- Records that the buyer is satisfied with the condition of the aeroplane.
- Declares that no undocumented/unapproved modifications have been made.
What the FFF Form does not do:
- Relieve the purchaser from verifying the aircraft is airworthy or fit for flight.
- Guarantee the aircraft is airworthy.
- Create a liability to the vendor.
- Discharge the liability of the vendor for actions performed while they owned the aircraft, including maintenance, repairs, or alterations.
Below is a copy of the wording provided by Transport Canada, which must be on the form.
Fit for Flight Form Advanced Ultra-light Aeroplane
blank space for Registration
blank space for Serial Number
blank space for Make
blank space for Model
blank space for Manufacturer
I certify that the custody and control of the advanced Ultra-light Aeroplane described herein has been transferred to (name of new owner).
The aeroplane has been maintained in accordance with the Manufacturer Specified Maintenance Program, all mandatory actions have been completed, and no modifications have been made to the aeroplane without the written approval of the manufacturer.
Signature of Registered Owner/Date
blank space for Signature of Registered Owner/Date
I hereby accept the custody and control of the advanced Ultra-light Aeroplane described herein and have inspected the aeroplane and have found the aeroplane to be as described by the registered owner and is fit for flight.
Signature of New Owner/Date
blank space for Signature of New Owner/Date
The legal ramifications
By itself, the form does not contain a lot of ominous language that should prevent a diligent owner from signing off for a sale. The owner need only attest to having carried out the requirements of the maintenance program and not having modified the aeroplane without written permission.
This author is not aware of any cases where the adequacy of these statements has been tested either by Transport Canada as a result of an enforcement action, or in a court of law due to a litigation. There is an accepted risk associated with any activity such as flying, alpine skiing, or riding a skateboard. That understanding is undertaken by each person who participates. With an AULA, it’s a little different because the aeroplane can legally carry a non-aviation passenger. There is a duty of care to act in a way that provides for the safety of that passenger. Bending or breaking any of the rules or neglecting the guidance we have been given to ensure the safe operation of an AULA could be considered negligence in a civil case, and possibly warrant fines or sanctions from TC.
As a best practice, I advise every owner to treat their AULA as if it was a commercial passenger-carrying plane. In other words, maintain the highest standard of maintenance and record keeping you practically can. When it comes to protecting your life, your passengers’ lives, and your investment, there is no substitute for a well maintained and documented aircraft. Keep a comprehensive log book just as you would for a certified aeroplane. The standard Canadian journey log used by all certified aircraft is perfect. Maintain a file with all receipts, annual or periodic inspection reports, and any other details that would help identify a negative trend.
Provide detailed descriptions of your maintenance, and date and sign off your work. Owners should always obtain clear evidence that changes or repairs were authorized by the manufacturer, so that it cannot be disowned at a later date. When it comes time to sell, you will have the benefit of negotiating for the full value of your plane based on a well-documented pedigree. If you are buying a used AULA, it would be a good idea to contact the manufacturer and ask for a list of all the service bulletins and mandatory actions to compare with what the vendor has declared. Once you have purchased the aeroplane, it’s also your responsibility to register with the manufacturer to enable them to continue supplying service bulletins and alerts. If you fail to advise the manufacturer, or if your aeroplane becomes orphaned, it could result in it becoming ineligible for AULA status.
If you’ve purchased a plane in the past which you think may have a questionable history, there is no time like the present to begin a comprehensive inspection and maintenance program that exceeds the manufacturer’s requirements to bring it up to spec. With some time and effort, you may be able to restore your aircraft’s integrity and its value, while relieving yourself of the worry of flying an unknown aircraft. If this is the case, it’s probably a good idea to contact the manufacturer to find out what’s been updated on the plane and go through it in detail, bringing each trouble area up to date. Don’t forget to document it!
The regulations contain consequences for deviating from the expected maintenance routine. When an aircraft fails to meet the requirements anymore, its certificate of registration is automatically cancelled and it is no longer flyable. The owner should inform TC so that it can be removed from the registry. If it meets the definition of a BULA, the owner can re-apply to register in that category. If it doesn’t meet the spec for a BULA, it must be permanently removed from the aircraft registry and is no longer flyable. Keep in mind that a pending modification or service item doesn’t mean the plane is disqualified, but the manufacturer might require the aircraft to be grounded until an update is completed. Some pilots believe that if the aircraft fails to meet the guidelines, they can continue operating it under BULA rules, but this is false. The regulations are clear on this: Transport Canada must be so advised, and the aircraft AULA registration is cancelled. Presuming you can convert to a BULA, you would still lose these two privileges: passenger carrying and 32 lb of useful load. Furthermore, aircraft registered BULA require their owners to wear a helmet. If we want to protect our privileges within the AULA community, we all need to do our part in keeping our aircraft properly maintained and operated safely. Doing so could save your life and the life of your passengers.
The following links are available on the Transport Canada website:
- Ultra-light Aeroplane Transition Strategy
- AULA Responsibilities—Overview
- AULA Owner Responsibilities
- AULA Manufacturer Responsibilities
Organizations whose focus includes ultra-light aircraft: