How to Improve the Technical Management Aspects of a Flight Department
Whilst the overall safety performance of a corporate flight department revolves around the safe operations of its aircraft, focus shouldn’t be limited to that alone, highlights Mario Pierobon…
Aviation safety regulations prescribe that operators ensure their aircraft are airworthy; that any fitted operational and emergency equipment is correctly installed and serviceable (or clearly identified as unserviceable); that the airworthiness certificates are valid; and that the maintenance of aircraft is performed in accordance with maintenance programs.
Essentially, technical management of the aircraft is as important as its operational management within the flight department. While current Safety Management Systems (SMS) are primarily concerned with operational matters, future SMS requirements will become explicitly applicable to aspects of technical management.
There are many things that can go wrong in a technical department from a safety standpoint. Following, we highlight three of them as food for thought to help guide SMS implementation into technical areas of the flight department.
Technical Management Resources
Let’s begin with the availability of personnel, resources and adequate facilities to perform continuing airworthiness management services. If the flight department is small, it’s often the case that the technical office consists of one person. That person may or may not work full-time, and may even work remotely.
Larger organizations, by contrast, require more personnel and some degree of office centralization as the workload increases and the need for improved coordination in the technical department expands.
Yet larger organizations may have a technical department that is still organized like that of a start-up flight department. If that is the case, there is a clear need for a more structured set-up to be implemented, including adequate IT infrastructure and office space.
Working in a less-than-optimal environment leads to poor communication and heightens the risk of necessary aircraft maintenance activities not being performed on the aircraft.
The training of personnel is another very important aspect of a flight department’s development, and failure to implement adequate training can lead to non-airworthy aircraft remaining in service.
Initial and recurrent training is a way to qualify personnel, maintain their current standards, and advance the skills of personnel performing safety sensitive functions.
And yet oftentimes only the bare minimum of training is delivered, limited in some cases to online learning platforms.
While theoretically online training can be as effective as classroom training, we live in an age that offers a lot of distractions. Within a classroom training environment, trainees are less inclined to be distracted by notifications and messages received on their phones or iPads (for example), thus creating a better atmosphere for learning technical safety.
Documentation Management Systems
Another relevant dimension of supporting the technical management of an aircraft is having a good Documentation Management System in place. Revisions to documents produced or customized by the technical office, such as Minimum Equipment Lists (MELs) and Aircraft Maintenance Programs (AMPs), are to be implemented in a timely fashion. Furthermore, revision update monitoring needs to be performed recurrently.
Documentation revisions are often performed by manually editing Microsoft Word documents (or similar). More sophisticated database-driven solutions exist that are becoming cost-efficient and provide for a more thorough and consistent approach to documentation management.
One of the main responsibilities of the technical office is to maintain all technical records, the loss of which can mean (among other things) a very significant loss in value of the aircraft.
Today, opportunities for data back-up are nearly limitless with the ever increasing availability of cloud-based data storage services. Yet it may still be the case for some technical departments that all data are saved on a server housed at the flight department’s premises. It really is no longer worthwhile putting all your eggs in one basket…
Safety hazards are present in the technical departments of the flight operation, although they are often more subtle. By looking at the macro areas of resource availability such as those highlighted above, you can start your hazard identification and begin to think of how to apply better control to your technical department.