Aviation Director Andre Fodor concludes his discussion on ways to improve the service level of jet maintenance to meet the expectations of corporate aviators and managers…
The Hippocratic Oath leaves no doubt of a doctor’s prime directive: Do no harm. When in doubt, cause no hurt. Like medicine, jet maintenance requires highly-skilled professionals with advanced skills and years of specialization—and a physician’s approach to helping patients.
Naturally, we want the most experienced technicians to work on our jets; those able to swiftly get to the root cause of our pesky maintenance issues.
It’s a fact that technology, accumulated experiences and software-driven analysis have changed troubleshooting. Located at the OEM’s headquarters often are teams that focus on fielding calls and dispensing guidance to get airplanes back aloft and into revenue mode.
Surely that’s a move in the right direction, but it’s a move that can also have adverse effects since troubleshooting and investigation is taken away from the on-site technician and may be replaced by aggressive parts-swapping.
Too Great Expectations?
Several years ago, I took delivery of a brand new large cabin jet and negotiated an all-inclusive parts and labor program. Knowing that a new airplane would have the maintenance challenges covered, I felt confident that there was a vast network of experienced technicians and service centers able to help us manage and correct our discrepancies.
As anticipated, issues cropped up. It was something of a letdown, however, to note how quickly orders for expensive parts were placed to be delivered by the fastest (and expensive) courier services. I could visualize dollar signs flying away from our wallet, and I quickly became unhappy with this approach.
Clearly my expectations and the OEM’s were not aligned.
I expected that with years working on a specific aircraft type, experienced technicians would grab their tool boxes, arrive on the scene and troubleshoot our airplane.
Instead, parts-swapping seemed to take precedence.
Why, you might ask, should I care if the fix came under warranty and all parts and labor charges were covered? Well, neither the warranty nor the maintenance contracts guaranteed that a faulty part would be replaced with a new part. We risked ending up with a high-time, refurbished part installed on our brand new business jet.
Adding insult to injury, due to the parts-swapping merry-go-round, once we had installed the same serial number part that had been exchanged during an earlier maintenance event. It found its way back on our aircraft because the tear down report accompanying the part stated ‘no fault found’.
In essence, although the parts don't cost anything, we wanted to prevent our airplane from becoming a ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ of exchanged parts, adding reams of paperwork to the aircraft’s logbook and lowering the residual value.
Don’t Be Afraid to Disagree
In another instance, we once had a fuel pump that faulted randomly on a wide-cabin jet. At $68,000 (and eight hours of labor), replacing it should have been the last option following exhaustive troubleshooting efforts. Alas, it was the very first thing proposed.
Disagreeing, I requested that more time be taken to investigate and find the root of the problem. My request paid off.
A bare wire was found that, when exposed to different temperatures, grounded and failed the system. A few minutes of wire splicing remedied a pesky issue, simultaneously saving the OEM serious money.
I have been asked why I’m such a stickler for having technicians troubleshoot before exchanging parts. My answer is highlighted above. From a dollars and cents perspective, fixing in lieu of replacing saves everyone big money while maintaining the integrity of the airplane.
If the fixed cost Parts and Labor Programs can’t be profitable, the only solution available is for the OEM or provider of the service contract to raise the price, which will impact each of our own bottom lines. Just as applicable, warranty work performed to fix manufacturing flaws will raise costs and cause the parts pool to dwindle.
If doctors follow the Hippocratic Oath as a guideline to their actions, why should we not apply the same principles to our aircraft maintenance?
I am all for technological enhancements and the development of tools that optimize and reduce maintenance hurdles. That approach is positive. But we should also balance those tools with our natural talents and our years of hands-on experience when it comes to our jet maintenance...