Annual Inspection

I am without wings this week while my airplane is in for its required annual inspection. During the process, designed to insure airworthiness, the inspector basically disassembles the plane, looks at every wire, screw, plate etc., and then puts it back together. It is actually a little disturbing to see my beautiful machine laying in pieces all over the shop floor.

The purpose of these inspections is obvious. Unlike a car, whose owner often waits for something to break before fixing it, an airplane can’t pull off the road and wait for a tow truck. Repairs must be anticipated and performed proactively. Airplanes endure great stresses most passengers are not aware of. My pressurized turboprop cruises in excess of 300 MPH in temperatures ranging from 100 degrees on the ground to -35 in the air just 15 minutes later. The hostile conditions of flight are no place for careless maintenance.

During the annual inspection, under FAA regulations, anything the inspector finds that could potentially create a risk has to be repaired. As an example of the detail to which these are done, on my current inspection I was informed that a critical control cable was “frayed” and needed replacement. Upon looking at the cable it appeared to me to be in perfect condition. The mechanic showed me that by wearing a pair of thin surgical gloves, and running his hands along the cable, there was a point at which the gloves slightly snagged on the cable. Visually the fray could only be seen with magnification. He explained that the cable was not a risk, but the annual required it to be replaced before it became one.

Not all repairs are required, only those that apply to airworthiness, which is why that discount flight you took last week had that unsettling rattle in the overhead bin. When I send my plane in for annual I send it to a mechanic I trust completely. I tell him to fix everything he finds, no matter how small. At 27,000 feet I don’t want to question why I worried about the cost of replacing a worn rivet.

I take great effort to keep my airplane airworthy, always looking to do preventive maintenance before parts have a chance to fail. I see no reason why my investment portfolio should be any different. My family depends on its performance just as they depend on my airplane’s performance. I cannot anticipate every possible risk that might occur, but I try to prepare for all that I can.

Each year you should meet with your trusted financial advisor (emphasis on “trusted”). It is not necessary that you personally tear down and inspect your portfolio, but you should be certain that your advisor has done so. You should then be willing to give serious consideration to any recommended maintenance.

Your portfolio faces many stresses and over time will show the negative effects of poor maintenance if it is neglected. Like an airplane at 27,000 feet, if things fail in your retirement years, your financial tow truck options will be very limited.