Modification — The last segment in our definition of a maintenance cycle is the modification segment. Often, an aircraft owner will decide that the aircraft would better fit their needs if it was modified. Modifications can be at the discretion of the owner-operator, or in some cases, new regulations may require a modification be performed in order to continue operations.
Modifications are either major or minor in nature. One reason I choose to include the modification segment in the maintenance cycle is the significance that modifications can have on the inspection segment. All major modifications should come with Instructions for Continued Airworthiness or ICAs. These instructions may include new inspection and/or maintenance requirements that must be blended into the current inspection program for the aircraft. The two basic methods the FAA uses for approving aircraft modifications are STCs (Supplemental Type Certificates) and FAA Field Approvals, the latter of which is getting to be less and less common.
So, we return to the flight segment and continue the maintenance cycle for the life of the aircraft. Having complete and accurate maintenance records made possible by a simple, easy to use maintenance tracking system will make the maintenance cycle more predictable and, as a result, much less expensive. Following are some ways that maintenance records can make a difference in the cost of the operation of your aircraft.
The invisible costs
One of the most costly, though intangible, expenses incurred by an aircraft owner-operator is downtime. Because the aircraft is an asset to the company, it usually has ongoing costs regardless of its availability for use. Add to that, the cost of alternative transportation, and the possibility of lost business from the company's inability to act quickly (one of the reasons it bought the aircraft in the first place) and you can see how unplanned downtime must be avoided. The only way to manage downtime is to get your arms around the maintenance requirements and the utilization of the aircraft and effectively plan the maintenance to be accomplished. It is best to accomplish every scheduled maintenance item that will come due before the next scheduled inspection. If possible, plan aircraft modifications to be accomplished in conjunction with a scheduled maintenance event. With the maintenance shops bulging at the seams with work, scheduling for the inspection well ahead of time is essential to being sure of when the aircraft will be out of service.
Duplication of work
Duplication of work is another expense for aircraft owners-operators and is not only unnecessary but causes wear and tear on the aircraft. If the scheduled inspection or maintenance item that has been accomplished is not properly recorded in the aircraft maintenance records, the maintenance will either be duplicated or time will be spent chasing down a revised maintenance record, reinforcing the old saying that, "No job is finished until the paperwork is finished." The regulations clearly require the owner-operator to examine the maintenance records prior to returning the aircraft to service. This is not only to ensure the aircraft has been approved for return to service properly, but just as important, to ensure that all required maintenance entries have been made. Paperwork is never as much fun as working on the aircraft and is many times completed in a rush and with half the effort.
As maintenance providers, we need to encourage the owner-operator to look over the entries (second set of eyes); and as owner-operators, we should understand the importance of making sure record entries are complete and accurate and take the time to look them over in detail.
Most maintenance providers would much rather make needed corrections up front than get a call in six months asking for a new entry. And, we are all susceptible to making mistakes. Our logbook auditors commonly find omissions, inaccurate times/cycles, wrong dates, etc., all of which cost more to correct after the fact.
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