It's a long weekend, or the middle of the night, or maybe both. I'm picking up an airplane that has received scheduled maintenance overnight at a maintenance organization that we have an existing relationship with, but we don't own. The Ops Manager and the Person Responsible for Maintenance are out of contact and out of the country, in a central American country that a Google image search illustrates with palm trees, beaches and masked men carrying machine guns. I'm in Canada, working for a Canadian company, and thus bound by the Canadian Aviation Regulations and Standards, which require not only that the work be done, but that before the airplane is flown the work be documented as complete in the airplane's journey log.
There is no one at the hangar, but I have access to the airplane and the journey log is inside. I read through the entries. Nothing fancy: oil change, lube, basic inspection and the recurring airworthiness directives. ADs are corrective measures mandated to make up for some revealed weakness of the type of airplane. There are six of them required every hundred hours this airplane flies. Each requires a special inspection of a specific component. All were due for this inspection, but only five have been entered in the logbook. I check to see if it has been entered somewhere else in the description of the maintenance. Nope. I page back through the last hundred hours to see if it was done early for some reason. Nope.
I call and e-mail contact numbers we have for the maintenance company. No joy.
Now the work that has to be documented here was almost certainly done. It's a minor inspection requiring no dis-assembly, and while it's not legal for me to declare it inspected, I can look at it and see that it's fine. But it's not documented done with an official signature, so in the eyes of the regulatory authority it has not been done and is therefore unsafe. I could fly this airplane and in the tiny chance that an inspector performed a random check of me, my airplane and its paperwork, there is a multiplicative tiny chance that the inspector would recognize that this airplane was lacking this inspection. They would see from the paperwork that an inspection had been recently carried out. They would walk around and look for evidence that we were neglecting fluid leaks, brake pads or control hinges, check our weight and balance paperwork, make a few token attempts to intimidate me, and then be on their way.
If I failed to spot the missing line item and flew the airplane for a week and back to home base before I "noticed" it, there would be no repercussions for me. But that's not how I roll. I try to think outside of the box.
There are a number of airplanes parked on the ramp, not the same as ours but from the same manufacturer and I know that they have the exact same AD. The company that operates these aircraft is the tenant of the hangar next door, and their door is open. I also remember that because of some complicated personnel-borrowing trick we did last year, that they are legally allowed to sign for our aircraft. I poke my head in and find a lone guy doing something to the airstairs on a Metro. I trot out my sob story, including the detail about where the key personnel from my company are, because it sounds so remote it might as well be the moon, to me.
"That's my country, where I'm from," says the guy with the wrench. Okay, that works too, on the sympathy front, maybe.
The central American is super nice, and a fully certified AME, but he's worked with this company for less than a week so is not yet legally allowed to sign documents as a representative of their company. Yep, the guy is 100% qualified to safely do an inspection that has almost certainly been done anyway, but he still can't sign for my plane.
I get a call back from someone who confirms that the inspection was performed, but that he was a day contractor and therefore can't sign it. I need to get the head aviation maintenance engineer to amend the entry. The next morning he came out to sign it, and then the flight was cancelled.
If you can find an operations that has never lost a flight to fouled up paperwork I'm not sure if you've found a truly amazing company or a really irresponsible one, but something is not normal there. Honestly, more energy goes into making sure airplanes are legal according to the safety regulations than goes into actually making them safe.