Required documentation for the aircraft prior to flight.
The owner or operator of an aircraft is required by the FAA to ensure that the aircraft is maintained in a safe condition which includes the completion of mandatory aircraft inspections.
The Pilot in Command is responsible for determining that the airplane is in safe condition for flight also know as “airworthy”.
An aircraft is considered “airworthy” if the following conditions are met:
- airplane passes the preflight inspection which is performed before the flight
- all of the required documents are on board (visual inspection)
- the aircraft’s inspections are all up-to-date (verify in logbook)
- all airworthiness directives (ADs) are complied with (compare logbook with list of current ADs
As the Pilot in Command (PIC), it is your responsibility to determine that the inspections have all been complete. Maintenance records will have the appropriate entries.
An easy way to remember which documents are required is to remember AROW which is:
- Airworthiness Certificate
- Registration Certificate
- Operating Limitations
- Weight and Balance information
The Airworthiness Certificate is the aircraft’s “birth certificate and must be displayed in the aircraft so that it is visible to the passengers and or crew at the entrance to the cockpit or cabin whenever the aircraft is operated.
The date of issue is when the FAA first certifies the aircraft at the factory. Can be reissued if lost or destroyed.
The Airworthiness Certificate remains valid as long as the aircraft is operated and maintained according to the regulations and as long as it is registered in the U.S. There is no expiration date.
The registration number on the certificated begins with N for aircraft registered in the US and the N must match the number on the aircraft.
The Serial number is assigned by the manufacturer and is different from the registration number. The data plate on the exterior of the aircraft must match the Airworthiness Serial Number.
The Registration certificate is issued by the FAA and lists the owner’s name and address. It but be carried in the aircraft at all times and must match the N number on the Airworthiness Certificate. For US operations, a duplicate, pink copy of the Aircraft Registration Application may be used. Registration certificates are issued for 3 years and the expiration date is shown on the front.
The operating limitations are found in the FAA approved Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) for aircraft manufactured after 1979. The AFM for the Cessna 172 Skyhawk and the 162 Skycatcher are located in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH). They can also be found in the owner’s manuals or similar documents for aircrafts manufactured before 1979.
Operating Limitations may also be found on placards in the cockpit for all airplanes as well as on markings on the instrument panel as detailed in the Pilot Operating Handbook.
Weight and Balance Information
The weight and balance information is used for determining that the aircraft is within the maximum gross weight and center of gravity position limitations.
In order to ensure that the aircraft is safely loaded, you need two types of information. First, you need to know the empty airplane’s weight and center of gravity location.
- look at the Aircraft Wright Record for the aircraft (by serial number)
- found on a sheet attached to the Pilot’s Operating Handbook
- due of weighing or latest calculation
- basic empty weight
- location of the center of gravity
The Pilot’s Operating Handbook includes a list of all equipment installed in the aircraft. The empty weight and center of gravity must be adjusted anytime installed equipment id removed or any additional equipment is added.
You will also need to determine the total weight and the center of gravity factoring in the weight of the pilot, passengers, baggage and fuel. There is a form for helping to make this calculation in the Weight and Balance section of the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for your aircraft or the generic PIM (Pilot Information Manual) for this make and model. Be careful to use the actual empty weight for your particular aircraft and not the sample provided in the PIM.
Sometimes, specialized equipment requires that additional documents are kept with the aircraft such as the G1000 Cockpit Reference Guide which is required for all G1000 equipped Cessna 172 Skyhawks.
International Flight Requirements
For flights involving international borders, the aircraft must also have a Radio Station License, which would add an additional R in ARROW for easy memory. The effective Aircraft Registration Certificate is required as opposed to just tabuing the pink application.
FAA Ramp Checks
Since the FAA has the responsibility and authority to make sure that aircrafts using national airspace are airworthy, FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors may randomly request to see pilot and aircraft documentation. This check/inspection is referred to as a “ramp check”. If this happens. always remember to be polite and courteous just as you would any other government official, police officer, DMV representative, you get the point, be nice.