All certificated aircraft must be inspected at least annually. An annual inspection expires at midnight of the last day of the 12th month from the date of the last annual. If a balloon was inspected on December 15, 1994, the next annual inspection is due on December 31, 1995. If the balloon is flown after December 31, 1995 without an annual inspection, the owner/operator and pilot are in violation of Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) ß91.409. If a balloon is used for paid rides or paid instruction, it must have a 100- hour inspection; specifically, if the balloon is flown 100 hours before the next annual inspection, it must be inspected. I am not aware of any repair station that has separate requirements for 100-hour and annual inspections, therefore after 100 hours, you will get another annual inspection. Once a new annual inspection is performed, the count begins at zero for the 100-hour inspection requirement.
An annual inspection is valid for one year. If you fly paid passengers or paid instruction, an annual inspection is good for one year or 100 hours, whichever comes first. The FAA doesnít recognize any other numbers; under FAR Parts 91 and 43, which are the regulations governing balloon inspections, there is no such thing as a 50-hour inspection or a 25-hour inspection.
You can get a "13-month annual" by getting the next inspection the first part of January, but donít operate the balloon between December 31 and the inspection. Itís a 9% annual saving.
When you take your balloon in for an inspection, there are preparations you can make to get a good annual and reduce the cost.
Before you take your balloon to the repair station, clean it of dirt, leaves, champagne corks, and other debris. If you donít clean it, the repair station must, and that costs.
Bring whatís necessary and only whatís necessary.
Do not bring fan, ropes, drop line, radio(s), tool kit, or basket cover. If you have a radio mounted in the basket, remove the radio. Unless it was put there by an FAA radio installer, and you have the paperwork to prove it, itís illegal.
Fuel tanks should be nearly empty (or at least not full) and uncovered. If the repair station has to remove tank covers and heating coils, they will probably charge you. The tanks themselves must be inspected, not the wrappings. If your basket has removable seats, remove them, or be prepared to pay the repair station to do it. If a rug covers the floor of the basket, remove the rug so the floor can be inspected.
If your instruments use batteries, check them and replace any dead or failing batteries. It will cost you more if your repair station has to do this simple task.
If your balloon requires a fire extinguisher, check its condition and have it recharged if necessary. If your fire extinguisher is not adequately charged, and is required, it must be done for airworthiness and may cost you less to have it done yourself than to pay your repair station to do it.
The less extraneous work your repair station has to do, the less the inspection should cost.
If your balloon is damaged give the repair station a written list describing the damage and exact location, using the balloon manufacturerís terms. "In the blue, near the top" doesnít do it. Refer to gore numbers, and station numbers, or panel numbers, depending on balloon brand. Donít make the repair station search.
Prepare yourself so you know what to expect. Read the maintenance manual that came with your balloon. Not all damage has to be repaired. If you know the allowable damage for your balloon, you may elect to have only required repairs made.
Most repair personnel welcome owner participation and you may learn more about your balloon.
You should receive the following documentation after your annual inspection: a work order describing all work done, with proper wording returning the aircraft to service; an inspection check list; a discrepancy/corrective action report (if any discrepancies were found); fabric test results. Although not required, most repair facilities make an entry in the aircraft logbook, stating when the inspection was performed, when the next inspection is due, and correct wording returning the aircraft to service. If your balloon has life-limited parts, such as hoses and tank valves, replacement and re-certification should be documented on a work order, with an entry made in the aircraft logbook.
Prepare your balloon for its inspection and save money.