How can business aircraft owners and operators keep abreast of maintenance events and records? Why is it important to do so, and what are the solutions available to help accomplish this to a satisfactory standard? Dave Higdon reviews…
A long-time aircraft maintenance technician once told a buyer, who he was helping with a purchase, that an aircraft should only be considered to be as healthy as the depth and quality of its maintenance. Without detailed, up-to-date maintenance records, he stressed, the buyer should consider the aircraft as not airworthy until proven otherwise.
With no record of a maintenance task being done, the work should be assumed not to have been done. Though receipts for parts and materials might help (assuming they match up with those installed in the aircraft), who did the work? And what evidence is there that the work was done correctly, and on time?
Those, the maintenance technician concluded, are the basic reasons for keeping detailed maintenance records in a managed system.
Moreover, should the FAA want to check, there should be no blanks in the records that could evoke a violation. Operating business aircraft therefore requires some form or system for tracking and managing the maintenance of the aircraft.
The open issue is in deciding exactly how to manage information, schedule visits to the maintenance hangar, stay on top of recurring maintenance, assure a supply of rotable parts and consumable products and, most importantly, keep both the logs and associated work records up to date.
Given the complexity and sophistication of a business aircraft, managing and tracking its maintenance needs is no small task. Between maintaining the airframe, the powerplant system – engine, nacelles, thrust reversers and necessary accessories (starters, starter/generator, etc.) – there's plenty to manage.
No wonder operators turn to specialized computer software; an independent maintenance-recording and management company; enrol in a per-hour maintenance program; or develop their own in-house department charged with overseeing the maintenance needs of the corporate fleet.
Maintenance Management Basics
The best outcomes result from disparate parties working together toward a singular outcome: The availability of the company aircraft most hours. Maintaining the company airplane to its best condition naturally contributes to that goal.
The flight or maintenance department with aircraft logs and work records available digitally has a solid advantage over those still working with paper.
Leafing through pages of paper-based logs, file folders full of reports, and purchase orders, seeking to confirm that parts used were indeed correct, is far more time-consuming. Hence the popularity of aircraft maintenance tracking software.
With one such tool, operating crews can enjoy the ability to track, maintain and analyse a complete system of records. Better still, the records are accessible by more than one person at a time, eliminating the choke point that occurs when records, files and logs are accessible to only one person at a time.
What Aircraft Maintenance Tracking Tools are Available?
Some tools available on the market try to be all-encompassing while others are focused on fulfilling specific needs. Consider the following sampling an example of the many Maintenance Tracking Tools available for managing the maintenance needs of your aircraft/fleet.
For decades, ATP has been one of the most successful aviation businesses to help operators maintain the aircraft logs and maintenance records, as required by the FAA. The former Aircraft Technical Publishers served the aviation maintenance community in much the same way as Jeppesen serves the pilot community; providing regular mailings of changes to maintenance manuals and sundry other documents subject to periodic change.
ATP (as it’s known today) tailors its services to fit the organization, be it a single airplane user or a fleet operator, digitally. And ATP fits its record-and-manual services to the individual aircraft, allowing the client maximum detail in their files, logs and maintenance records.
Updates go straight to where they should be, while remaining ready for access, within minutes (not the hours once consumed filing paper changes). And ATP can set up a client so technicians can access those records from anywhere they can use the Internet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, tablet, desktop or smartphone.
More information from www.atp.com
Flightdocs also offers its services and products in digital formats for maximum accessibility and utility. Among the company’s sundry products are two aimed specifically at maintenance and tracking: The Flightdocs Enterprise package and the HMX software.
According to Flightdocs, together they deliver maintenance tracking like no other solution. With these software tools operators can streamline workflows, increase efficiency and gain real-time insights into entire fleets, from anywhere and at any time.
The guiding hand is what Flightdocs calls its Maintenance Dashboard, designed to inform the user on aircraft status at a glance, thanks to the dashboard's color-coding of status and the compartmentalized organization (always visible at a glance). The Flightdocs approach is designed to be all encompassing, and easy to understand.
More information from www.flightdocs.com
Traxxall takes what it calls a “seamless, customer-centric enrolment process” to start with a full assessment of an operator's specific requirements. It then works with the operator to align the system and service to their needs.
A maintenance analyst conducts a thorough enrolment interview, followed by a ‘general status audit’ that includes a comprehensive review of the aircraft status report and/or due list.
Applying its own innovative aircraft maintenance tracking and inventory management solutions, Traxxall uses features that are purpose-built by a team with deep industry experience, thereby serving a vital customer requirement.
More information from www.traxxall.com
Taking a Proactive Approach to Maintenance
Another avenue exists for owners/operators to both manage their aircraft's maintenance needs and control maintenance costs: The hourly maintenance program. Most airframe and engine OEMs offer such a program.
For a contracted per-operating-hour fee the owner/operator signs up with their preferred provider. Typically billed on a monthly or quarterly basis, the operator remits to the program provider the amount warranted by the hours flown during the most recent billing period.
In exchange the program provider delivers the agreed-upon services. Details such as who performs the work, and where, are typically spelled out in the contract – as is the extent of the services to be provided.
Some pre-paid maintenance programs offer powerplant coverage only (which can include rental of loaner engines when the main engines are removed from the aircraft for a hot-section inspection or overhaul). Other programs cover only the airframe, or only the avionics. And then there are those covering the entire aircraft.
Coverage may provide AOG service for stranded aircraft or even access to a replacement aircraft when needed, in some cases. The greater the level of coverage, however, and the more complicated the aircraft, the higher the per-hour fee will be for the contracted services.
Be Management Savvy, Not Maintenance-Managed!
As one mechanic told a hot-rod driving friend long ago, “Pay me now – or pay me later”. That closely parallels the attitude of many operators about their maintenance management efforts.
They know that if they fail to manage the maintenance of their company aircraft, the neglected aspects will impact aircraft availability and dispatch reliability. And, in the end, that will cost more than staying ahead of the need in the first place.