The cost of accidental damage to aircraft can quickly ground any visions that a hangarkeeper or fixed base operator might have of a profitable year. The consequence of a single misjudgment or a simple oversight by an inattentive employee can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in repairs to aircraft or facilities, significant aircraft downtime, and even result in injury to employees or customers.
As the growth in general aviation accelerates, aircraft owners are becoming pickier about who handles a piece of equipment that can represent a multi-million-dollar business investment. They are not just looking for a facility that provides the cheapest fuel, and they will no longer tolerate sloppy or unconventional practices. “Hangar rash” is no longer acceptable as the price for having someone service a plane.
The key for hangarkeepers and FBOs is to follow industry practices and procedures for careful aircraft handling and employee training. It’s a good way to win repeat customers and is also the right approach to zero in on costs, not just for damages but also for insurance. Underwriters pay careful attention to standardized aircraft movement procedures before issuing a policy. Running a clean operation pays off all around.
A Few Examples
The following are just a few of the many costly mistakes that can happen when a hangarkeeper or FBO fails to follow industry best practices.
- On a clear evening, an FBO was towing a customer’s large twin turboprop (J-41) into the hangar. The tug driver was using a 30,000-pound tug, typically better suited for larger aircraft, with no wing walkers for assistance. In order to bring the aircraft into the hangar, a 90-degree turn was needed. Despite the well-lit work area, the tug driver was looking behind him into the hangar and the right wing struck the hangar, causing severe damage to both hangar and aircraft wing. The force and momentum of the tug pulled the nose gear completely off the aircraft, and the nose hit the ground with considerable force. Repairs: over $1 million.
- As a Cessna Citation was being towed from the hangar to its ramp for departure, the tug operator disconnected the nose wheel from the tug without chocking the aircraft. The aircraft rolled forward, scraping the left fuselage against the tug, and coming to a rest when the left wing made contact and rode slightly up onto the tug, its brake set.
- Two Bell 407 aircraft in a hangar needed to be repositioned as one was leaving for a flight. While moving one of the aircraft, the tug operator was looking behind him and forgot to put the tug in reverse position. There were no wing walkers and the tail of one aircraft was pushed into the nose of the other aircraft. Both aircraft were significantly damaged in excess of $100,000 each.
- A G-IV aircraft was directed on the hangar’s ramp with a marshal at the nose of the aircraft and left and right wing walkers. The aircraft was stopped and both wing walkers moved to the left side of the aircraft to move two of the FBO’s vehicles blocking the path. Both wing walkers remained on the left side of the aircraft while the marshal signaled the pilot to continue taxiing. The right wingtip struck the rudder of a King Air parked near the hangar and in the FBO’s care.
- On the ramp, while conducting a maintenance engine run-up on a Hawker 800, the jet blast blew debris, including a pile of stacked hangar doors, into several aircraft.
These and similar accidents are a constant concern for hangarkeepers and FBOs as well as aviation insurance carriers. The FlightSafety Foundation believes that the bill for all ground accidents involving aircraft, including the indirect costs associated with injuries and deaths, to be about $7 billion a year. Although figures aren’t broken out separately for general aviation, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) estimates the cost of GA ground damage at about $100 million per year in direct costs.
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