Many repair facilities allow a small, general aviation aircraft owner to assist with an annual inspection to help reduce the cost of the inspection for the owner.  An owner-assisted annual also provides the aircraft owner with an opportunity to learn more about the aircraft.  But how much help is the aircraft owner permitted to provide?
Before I answer that question, I think a little background may be helpful.  As you may know, 14 C.F.R. § 91.409(a) requires that an aircraft undergo an annual inspection every twelve calendar months or sooner in order for that aircraft to be airworthy.  The regulations also explain the scope of the annual inspection. 14 C.F.R. Part 43, Appendix D lists all of the items that must be inspected and whose airworthiness must be confirmed.
However, the regulations do not allow just anyone to perform an annual inspection.  14 C.F.R. § 65.95 only affords that privilege to a mechanic who also holds an inspection authorization.  That individual, who we will refer to as “the IA”, is ultimately responsible for returning the aircraft to service after completion of the annual inspection.
According to the FAA, only the IA may inspect and make airworthiness determinations for each of the items listed in Appendix D (b) through (j) when performing an annual inspection. And only the IA may approve the aircraft for return to service after the annual inspection.  The FAA considers these items to be non-delegable – meaning the IA may not let someone else perform these tasks.
So, what is left for the aircraft owner?  Not much since the aircraft owner is not permitted to assist with the inspection and airworthiness determination of any of the items in Appendix D (b) through (j).  However, paragraph (a) of Appendix D references removing or opening all necessary inspection plates, access doors, fairings and cowlings “before that inspection” and also cleaning the aircraft and engine. The FAA views those items as preliminary tasks that are not inspection items under Appendix D.
As a result, the FAA considers those types of tasks to be delegable.  This means the IA who is performing the annual inspection may allow an aircraft owner to perform those preliminary tasks under the IA’s supervision.
Interestingly, the FAA’s rationale also applies to mechanics who do not hold an inspection authorization.  Even though a mechanic without inspection authorization may perform all of the items in Appendix D (b) through (j) during a 100-hour inspection or as needed, only an IA may perform these items in connection with an annual inspection.  And only an IA may return the aircraft to service after completion of an annual inspection.
Thus, depending upon the aircraft, the owner’s assistance in removal or opening of all necessary inspection plates, access doors, fairings and cowlings, and cleaning the aircraft and engine, may be minimal or it may be quite involved.  Additionally, the IA’s comfort level with the aircraft owner’s knowledge and experience may also dictate that the IA supervise the owner’s performance of the items in paragraph (a).
However, the IA performing the annual inspection with owner assistance should remember that he or she has the obligation of personally inspecting each item, determining that item’s airworthiness, and returning the aircraft to service, if appropriate.  If the IA permits the aircraft owner to assist with the inspection or airworthiness determination for any of the items in Appendix D (b) through (j) and then the IA returns the aircraft to service, that would likely be a violation of the regulations, including 14 C.F.R. § 43.12(a)(1) involving a false entry in a maintenance record.
The potential sanctions for such violations range from suspension of a mechanic certificate or inspection authorization up to revocation of all airmen certificates.  As a result, IAs should remember and comply with these limitations if/when they perform an owner-assisted annual.

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