Three Tips to Avoid Early Aircraft Maintenance

Regardless of the systems and type of aircraft you operate, flight crew can play a key role in preventing early maintenance and minimizing the associated costs. Dave Higdon shares three tips…

Dave Higdon  |  04th December 2020
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Dave Higdon
Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon is a highly respected, NBAA Gold Wing award-winning aviation journalist who has covered all...

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An aircraft mechanic examines a private jet engine

As much as the modern business aircraft’s state-of-the-art powerplants and systems have evolved to simplify the workload of those operating them, one thing remains the same: The capability of the operator to damage them with careless or improper use.

Flight crews continue to play a key role in helping to ensure aircraft enjoy a long life, free of unnecessary and troublesome jet maintenance events. But what are some of those potentially ‘troublesome’ events, and how can operators avoid encountering them, inadvertently?

Sometimes, it comes down to simple aircraft operation management, while other times it’s more technical in nature. Almost always the proper care and attention can help you to avoid unnecessary inconvenience and cost, preventing the company’s business aircraft from needing an early trip to the MRO shop.

TIP 1: The Small Things Matter

Several years ago, a passenger of mine asked why we approached the destination runway in a series of maneuvers that resulted in slower air-speeds. We were both eager to end the five-hour flight so we could each attend meetings scheduled for that afternoon.

I explained how slowing for touchdowns contributed to a shorter landing and an easier roll-out, essentially resulting in reduced wear on the aircraft's brakes and tires, and contributing to a lower maintenance and inspection bill when the annual inspection came due.

“You're also fortunate that you don't have to put your airplane into a rental agreement,” my airframe and powerplant mechanic once pointed out, highlighting how, with different pilots flying, the airplane may be exposed to the handling of those with no ownership stake. 

"Such aircraft tend to require more expensive maintenance (not to mention the change to 100-hour inspection cycles instead of annual inspections).”

That A&P helped me understand how even little changes in my flying habits could help lower the costs of maintenance and periodic inspections.

Operating the aircraft with a mind-set to keep maintenance at a minimum offers benefits to any operation, whether a small company flying a small Piston Single or the Large Jet flown for a multinational conglomerate.

Private jet pilots have a role to play in maintenance prevention

TIP 2: Engine Care

As noted earlier in this story, closely watching temperatures and pressures upon engine start-up can help preclude exceedances that may mandate a hot-section inspection – if not a hot-section overhaul. Both are expensive, time-consuming jobs.

When in-flight, observing temperature, pressure and fuel flow levels can help keep the powerplants running happily until they reach the time or cycle triggers for inspection and overhaul.

But that doesn't mean ‘babying’ the engines. Mechanics and powerplant engineers encourage pilots to run their engines as hard as conditions can allow; not wide-open all of the time, but high in the power range to help keep the engine healthy. 

‘Babying’ engines, they warn, can allow soot and carbon to build up in the power sections, which wastes fuel and contributes to even more build up. The best solution to an engine that is dirty on the inside is to run through an engine-wash system to flush out and remove the efficiency-robbing contaminants.

TIP 3: Avoid Mismanaging Pressurization

Another potentially costly operating issue stems from the aircraft's pressurization system, which is a manually-controlled system on many older jets and turboprops. (The modern ‘set-and-forget’ pressurization controls are a relatively recent development, especially on turboprops.)

Mismanaging pressurization could incur a variety of maintenance needs, from damaging the outflow valve that modulates the cabin pressure; to causing seals to fail due to excessive pressure (potentially injuring the ears of passengers); and blowing the outflow valve, resulting in rapid decompression – an event with a potentially fatal outcome.

And failure to reduce cabin pressure to ground level after landing can result in damage to the door-lock mechanisms as well as the cabin door opening violently enough to damage the airframe and injure anyone standing directly outside.

The result? More unnecessary maintenance and repair.

It's (mostly) a Question of Control

Most of the poor operating practices that damaging an aircraft, powerplant, or components are under the control of the flight crew, regardless of how state-of-the-art the systems are.

That puts the onus on the flight crew to adhere to best operating practices, whether on a fully-crewed Large Jet, or an aircraft operated by a single pilot. Most potentially damaging events can be avoided completely.

Getting the most out of the aircraft, for the least level of wear and tear, and on the minimal fuel possible, comes down to learning those practices and making them standard operating procedure.

The result will be a happier aircraft that spends the least possible amount of time in the maintenance hangar. And that equates to a happier flight department, reporting to a happier CFO…

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Read More About: Operating Costs | MRO | Business Jet Maintenance

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