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I-TEAM looks into flight school’s engine maintenance history

Spring City Aviation
Posted at 5:17 PM, Jun 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-01 18:23:03-04

MILWAUKEE — Less than a week after Daniel Perelman, an 18-year-old student pilot, died after crashing an airplane, the I-Team discovered information on Spring City Aviation’s (SCA) website suggesting the plane he was flying may have been overdue for critical maintenance.

As of June 1, Spring City Aviation’s website had information suggesting the airplane Perelman was flying, a Cessna 152, had a TSOH of 7,954.1. An experienced pilot told us that number represents the amount of hours since an engine has been overhauled. TSOH stands for Time Since Overhaul. A representative with Lycoming Engines told the I-Team, the manufacturer recommends an engine overhaul every 2,000 hours. According to a service information document Lycoming posted online, the type of engine that was in Perelman’s plane should be overhauled every 2,400 hours.

N4978B Cessna 152 (Inactive)
On the Spring City Aviation website, the airplane Daniel Perelman was flying had a listed Time Since Overhaul (TSOH) of 7,954.1 hours. The manufacturer recommends TSOH at 2,000 hours.

“If it turns out the information we have concerning this particular aircraft is correct, then that is very shocking to me,” Robert Katz, a 41-year experienced pilot said.

Katz is also a certified flight instructor for the last 33 years. He explains that an overhaul is much more intensive than a typical maintenance check on your vehicle.

A person will completely disassemble the airplane’s engine, inspect each individual piece, and then rebuild the engine to assure it’s safe to use during flight. Then, in a logbook, airplane owners are supposed to keep track of how many flight hours occur between overhauls; referred to as Time Since Overhaul (TSOH) or Time Between Overhaul (TBO).

The information the I-Team originally found on the scheduling portal of the SCA website listed six aircraft, five of which included TSOH numbers that appeared to exceed the engine manufacturer’s recommendation for overhauls. All the planes listed on the website had either a Lycoming or Continental engine. The I-Team checked Continental’s online records. The latest information posted online is a service information letter from 2013. In that, it states the company also recommends overhauls at least every 2,000 hours. We left a message with the company to see if this is the most up-to-date information, but we have not received a response.

Aside from the plane Perelman was flying, which had a listed TSOH of 7,954.1 on the school’s website, two other planes were listed on the website at over 6,000 hours (6,976.7 hours and 6,096.2 hours), another was listed at 3,124.8 hours and a fifth plane was listed at 2,549.1 hours.

The lone aircraft under 2,000 hours had an entry on the school’s website listing its TSOH at -4,089.5 hours.

On June 1, The I-Team went to SCA looking for clarity on the information on its website. Jim Furlong, the Director of Maintenance at the Aviation School, says he can’t comment since there is an active investigation following Perelman’s crash.

“You have four airplanes well over the manufacturer’s recommendation,” the I-Team’s Shaun Gallagher asked. “Are they flying?”

“We don’t have any comment on that right now,” Furlong said. “I’m sorry about that.”

“There are people around here who are probably concerned about whether these airplanes are up in the air, above their homes,” Gallagher asked. “Are these accurate numbers?”

“Sure, I’d have to look at the numbers myself again,” Furlong said. “But we don’t have a comment right now.”

While Furlong did not comment on the accuracy of the TSOH numbers listed on the SCA site, he said their aircraft are safe.

“They are safe,” Furlong said. “Absolutely. We take great care in doing that.”

“The company needs to clarify exactly what’s going on with this particular plane as well as others in their fleet,” Katz said. “When the lay public comes to a flight school to learn to fly an airplane, they are not going to be entirely familiar with these esoteric details concerning maintenance, upkeep and reliability. I certainly hope this company will address any of these concerns, if only to clarify what is accurate and what is not.”

During our visit, Furlong pointed the I-Team to the company’s President, Brian Behrens and General Manager Josh Siehoff for comment. Our initial phone calls to both of them on June 1 were not returned.

The I-Team followed up the next day, June 2, and reached Siehoff. That same day, we could no longer find information regarding TSOH listed on the company’s website. Siehoff would not give an official comment about the information that was once on the SCA website, but did release the following statement:

“Spring City Aviation maintains all of its aircraft in accordance with current Federal Aviation Regulations. Due to the ongoing investigation by the FAA and NTSB, we are unable to provide additional comments at this time. Spring City Aviation will continue to provide assistance to the appropriate authorities throughout the process. Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Daniel Perelman.”

After our June 1 report, the I-Team discovered a logbook for one of the planes that had been listed on the SCA website. The plane was not the aircraft Perelman was flying. Spring City Aviation had posted the aircraft for sale online at trade-a-plane.com. It has been posted since at least Feb. 8, 2022 for a price of $59,500.

Before our June 1 report, the school’s website suggested a TSOH of 6,096.2 for that plane listed for sale. The logbook that accompanied the ‘for sale’ posting for this airplane, with registration number N4723B states the Lycoming engine had its last major overhaul on June 17, 2021. The last entry in the logbook is from November 22, 2021, listing an inspection after 100 hours of airtime. The log says the aircraft was found satisfactory for its return to service.

After the June overhaul, an employee at Poplar Grove Airmotive in Illinois wrote, “This engine was disassembled, cleaned, inspected and reassembled with necessary new parts in accordance with a major overhaul as per the manufacturer’s current overhaul manual.”

On Aug. 9 2021, that engine was installed into the aircraft, according to the logbook.

The I-Team has not found logbooks for the other five airplanes in question, including the airplane Daniel Perelman was flying.

The NTSB is still investigating the cause of Perelman’s crash. A preliminary report should be completed within a few months.

Editor’s note: Parts of this article have been updated after it was first published.

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