Self Anointed Kings and Bully Pulpits – Part 1
Opinion Editorial written by David H. Marion – Mike Busch is the self-anointed king of the bully pulpit in terms of General Aviation maintenance and many others seem to have bought into his traveling medicine show as well. That list includes most of the major alphabet soup organizations, AOPA, EAA, CPA, COPA, and ABS. It also includes some of the most prominent journals of General Aviation such as AOPA Pilot and FLYING magazines, for examples.
Other than being the biggest or loudest mouth out there, I can’t figure out why so many people and organizations buy into his spiel. Personally, I disagree with about 70 – 80% of what he has to say about aircraft maintenance and more often than not, I believe that what he says does the industry more harm than good.
Based on my own now 30 years of professional experience working as one, I believe that there is a big difference between actually being an Airframe & Powerplant mechanic and just having the certificates. Mike Busch often tags the articles he writes with the signature “Mike Busch is an A&P/IA” or even more grandiosely “Mike Busch, EAA 740170, was the 2008 National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year and has been a pilot for 44 years, logging more than 7,000 hours. He’s a CFI and an A&P-IA.” According to his own more comprehensive biographies published on AvWeb (which he co-founded,) his own company Web site (www.savvyaviation.com) and his own personal LinkedIn profile, Mike Busch has never actually worked professionally as an A&P mechanic – by which I mean getting paid to “turn wrenches” 40 hours or so per week. It seems that he just likes to “play one” on the Internet and in the aforementioned trade publications.
The truth is that Mike Busch is primarily a businessman, a software developer, and a professional consultant with academic degrees in mathematics and business administration. Although he has been a private pilot since 1964, his primary employment over his career has been as a software engineer for CSC (1968 – 1977) and then for himself as owner and president of a company called Software 2000 Inc. since 1977. He also has been involved with writing and Web publishing since 1995 with AvWeb, and with Web hosting since 2001 with a company called Generation 3, Inc. of which he is also the owner. Apparently his only aircraft maintenance experience has come more from being an owner of aircraft than it has from being an actual working mechanic – and Savvy was in fact not founded until 2004.
While there is no currency or “actively engaged” requirement by the FAA just to have the A&P certificates, there is a formal requirement to be both current and experienced in a particular job or maintenance task before doing it on your own. (Ref. 14 CFR §65.83.) Still, there are such requirements just to obtain, much less keep (i.e. renew) an Inspection Authorization or “IA” (ref. 14 CFR §65.91) – so for the life of me, I cannot figure out how Mike Busch ever got his IA in the first place.
According to several FAA Principle Maintenance Inspectors (PMI) at the local FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) with whom I have discussed it, they too do not believe that remotely consulting on aircraft maintenance qualifies as being “actively engaged” in regard to the prerequisites for an IA. That was an issue for me when I first applied to get my own IA partially on the basis of the work I had done as a technical specialist for Antilles Seaplanes – or as Mike Busch does more often than not just indirectly as president & CEO of Savvy Aircraft Maintenance. I know that so-called “standards” can be subject to interpretation, but I sure hope that his IA is not getting pencil-whipped every two years by some “good ole’ boy” friend of his at his local FSDO. I certainly have seen no evidence that it is because he ever actually turns any wrenches himself.
By that same token as well, it really sticks in my craw when he brags about being “the 2008 National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year.” Based on what I have seen and read, it could not have been because of any aircraft that he actually maintained or repaired, because he doesn’t seem to do that sort of thing at all. About all he actually seems to do is write and publish articles and promote himself and his own business, Savvy Aircraft Maintenance, so it seems to me that it was because of that bully pulpit and its attendant publicity that he was so recognized.
The very first thing that I ever read that was written by Mike Busch was an article in which he decried a repair station for refusing to sign off an Annual inspection on an airplane because the owner would not permit them to perform the “recommended” 500-hour inspection or overhaul of the magnetos. While technically correct that it was only a “recommendation” and not any kind of “requirement” mandated by an Airworthiness Directive for example, Mike’s article rubbed me the wrong way because I believed that his emphasis was all wrong. In my experience, both Bendix and Slick type magnetos have similar requirements for such an inspection and/or overhaul as applicable that are based on real-world experience with problems that actually do crop up in that time frame.
While the repair station in question was, in my opinion as well, very definitely wrong to refuse to sign off the inspection, in my opinion they were more wrong in that they apparently failed to properly or sufficiently explain to or educate the customer as to why he should authorize them do the work in question. On the other hand, Mike Busch seems to be a big proponent of “on condition” maintenance; in other words, his advice typically is to fly the airplane until the part actually breaks. So, what happens when you are in actual IFR conditions over the mountains when your magneto (or vacuum pump, or alternator, or whatever else) fails?
In a more recent article, Mike Busch wrote about consulting (remotely of course) with a pilot who was flying a single-engine Cirrus airplane literally around the world and who, while crossing the North Atlantic from Greenland to Iceland, experienced an apparent partial or intermittent electrical system failure in his aircraft. Mike Busch’s advice to him was to ignore the problem and not delay his flight while waiting for the problem to be fully diagnosed or properly repaired by a mechanic in Iceland, because he reasoned that it would have been too onerous to have to wait for the parts to be shipped out there and installed.
Mike Busch claimed that the electrical system in question was technically-speaking, or at least in terms of official certification and airworthiness standards, just a “back-up” system and that the nominal “back up” analog displays on the instrument panel were really the primary system. On that basis, he claimed that it was safe and legal to continue the flight and that even in the event of a further or more complete failure of the digital or “glass cockpit” display, the pilot would have no trouble continuing his flight on the “back up” instruments.
Now I have some experience in a very similar if not exactly identical problem in a Cirrus aircraft. A local customer of mine complained a while back that the stand-by alternator on his SR-20 had a warning light showing that it had failed. In the course of troubleshooting it in my shop, one of my mechanics just could not find anything really wrong with the system. The primary parameters that he checked, in consultation with me and the Cirrus service manual, were the continuity of the field on the stand-by alternator and the output of its regulator showing that voltage was being applied to the field. Everything that we were able to test appeared to check out OK.
Long story short, we ended up replacing several solid-state components trying to chase down the problem but with no effect – all literally by the Cirrus book. After close to $1,000 spent on parts and labor, the owner gave up and decided just to fly the airplane with the warning light still on. Several months later however, the owner came back to me one day and told me that he had been in touch with Cirrus about some other issue with his airplane and then got around to discussing the stand-by alternator warning light problem.
The owner even read our logbook entry to the technical rep at Cirrus, who apparently told him that we in fact had done everything correctly, by the book, and as we were supposed to do as far as he, speaking on behalf of Cirrus, was concerned. The technical rep admitted that Cirrus had only recently discovered an internal circuit issue with one of the solid-state components involved that was undetectable and un-repairable in the field except by replacement of the component in question.
That made my day because for one thing I had never been comfortable with the owner continuing to fly the airplane with an apparently on-going problem. I was even more uncomfortable with Mike Busch’s advice to the pilot flying alone in a single-engine aircraft across the North Atlantic. My feeling was that just because he had a “back-up” display or indicator for the system in question did not mean that there was not anything to worry about in regard to his electrical system.
It very well could have been the case that a short circuit or other failure in the problematic component in that particular case could have caused additional damage or that it just as easily could have fried other critical electrical systems including navigation and communication equipment. It even could have caused an electrical fire that could have brought the airplane down in the ocean and killed the pilot one way or another. To me it was a stupid risk to take just because the pilot did not want to wait for his airplane to be diagnosed and fixed properly and because Mike Busch apparently wanted to be the “can do” guy who enabled him to go on without a delay.
In another recent article entitled “Tales of Woe” Mike Busch wrote about his adventure replacing the hardware on the trim tab of his personal Cessna 310 airplane as mandated by a then new AD (Ref. 2016-17-08 which superseded 2016-07-24.) In the article, Mike related how he did not do the work himself even though he was nominally qualified to do so. (Maybe that was because of those troublesome old currency and experience requirements.) In any case, he was offered and ended up accepting the help of a real, professional “wrench-turning” A&P mechanic who worked at a local aircraft maintenance shop. During the course of the job, the other mechanic observed and told Mike that there seemed to be a crack developing in the trailing edge of the elevator.
At that, Mike apparently went ballistic; in his article he almost seems to be ranting that “mechanics love to find aircraft defects. It’s a matter of professionally pride with them deeply ingrained in their DNA. They especially love to find obscure discrepancies other mechanics have missed.” He also went on to say that “mechanics are congenitally spring loaded to inspect any aircraft placed before them and find any defects they can. If an aircraft owner wants to avoid being grounded at an inconvenient time, he needs to keep his mechanics on a short leash and not let them engage in fishing expeditions (except for once a year when the FARs mandate that such a fishing expedition be performed).” Editor’s note: Hey Mike, I believe that the final period actually should be inside the parentheses.
And isn’t that some kind of mixed metaphor? Which it is, Mike? Are those of us who are “real” working mechanics “dogs” to be kept on a leash or “fishermen” in your mind?
That’s how I know that Mike Busch is not a “real” A&P mechanic and it is also why I believe that pilots and owners should be wary of any advice that he gives. While I do take pride in doing especially thorough inspections, not only for 100-hour and Annual inspections, but also for pre-flight inspections for another example, and as well as during any other routine maintenance too, it is never my goal to overwhelm or burden a customer with unreasonable or minor discrepancies. Still, I will never turn a blind eye to something wrong with an airplane and even if only for his information, I always tell the pilot or owner about it. Knowledge is power and to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Similarly, ignorance is NOT bliss, except maybe to folks with a latent death wish – in which case, please don’t blame the mechanic!
David H. Marion is the Technical Content Editor at Seaplanemagazine.com. As A&P and IA with 30 years of experience in aircraft maintenance, he is also a Commercial Pilot with Airplane, Single & Multi-Engine, and Instrument ratings. He has a BA from Colgate University in 1984 and also graduated cum laude from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (DAB) with a BS in Aviation Technology in 1990. He can be reached along with all of the editors via E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org