The Malibu is a pressurized airplane, and any pressurization system is only as strong as the weakest link. The weakest link is almost always the mechanical component that is the largest. In the Malibu the door is the largest mechanical component of the structure. So, it stands to reason that the door in the Malibu has a few areas of concern for the owner and/or pilot.
Door seals: The door seal on the Malibu is strong and works well, but it is expensive to replace. Knowing this, you should have a complete understanding of its two arch-enemies, the door bayonets and the left aft seat belt.
Door bayonets: The door bayonets can really damage the door seal if the door is closed while the bayonets are extended. These bayonets extend and mate with the receptors on the fuselage frame when the handle is locked. But if the handle is placed in the locked prior to door closure, damage to the door seal will occur. Nearly every door seal in the PA-46 fleet has been marked at some time or another by an errant closing. You will only have to replace the door seal one time (read…thousands of dollars) before you make closing and opening the door a job for the well trained.
Seat Belts: Every Malibu pilot should make a habit of ensuring the left aft seat belt is connected around the bottom seat cushion. If so, it cannot hang out the door and get caught when the door is closed. In a worse case scenario, the door could be closed upon the seat belt and hang outside the aircraft during flight. This could seriously ding the side of the airplane. The next-worst possibility would be that the metal portions of the seat belt could be caught in the door when being closed and misalign the fuselage metal that make up the door and/or entry. I once had a persistent leak on the lower left portion of the door and the problem could only be remedied by paying for some metal work and replacing the door seal. I make sure all the seat belts are secured around the bottom cushion for each seat as a part of my preflight – you should too.
Green indicators: Most close the door and never look at the green door indications. These 4 indicators are near the area of the door where the bayonets are housed, and they will only indicate green if the bayonets are extended. Get into a habit of checking these bayonets after door closure each time you close the door.
That sucky Mirage cable: With the Mirage came an “improvement” which replaced the lower door chains on the older Malibu’s. This improvement utilizes a cable and reel which looks really cool, but is one of the weaker parts of the Mirage. The cable constantly breaks with an associated high cost of replacement. Treat the cable with kid gloves. Never let the cable ride along the edges of the guiding hole when raising and lowering the door as it will weaken the cable. I’ve even seen some of the more flexible pilots simply reach down and raise the door with their hand to avoid operating the door by the cable. The newer Mirages have a newer door operation, and it is much better. The best, in my humble opinion, is the old Malibu chains…very simple, very reliable.
Teaching others to operate: Most Malibu owners are VERY picky about who opens the door on the Malibu. The risk-reward comparison quite simply makes a pilot who is paying the maintenance bills want to do the job him/herself so the risk of damaging the door is eliminated or severely mitigated. Either close the door yourself or teach the people you fly with regularly to handle it properly. Never let the untrained handle your door.
So there you have it…the door on the PA-46 is a great door, but it is terribly unforgiving of any mistreatment. Make sure to treat it well and it will serve you well. Mistreat is, and you will spend thousands, literally.