Every line mechanic has seen it, and has had to decide what to do about it. They come in every size from small and immaterial to large enough to put the airplane out of service for days. Of course that is one of our problems, whether it is from FOD or bird strikes, I am referring to the common problem of "dents".
Most of us have repair manuals that help us deal with the problem of what to do with a dent. Whether it is a must fix or we can just leave it alone. That however is where the problem comes in, what to do in the mind of a mechanic.
After years of working on an aircraft, an AMT can decide within a glance whether to deal with a dent or leave it alone. However, it does turn into a problem when it is a quick turn jet aircraft, full of passengers and you have to make a decision on what to do. Your decision could mean taking the aircraft out of service, inconveniencing passengers, and playing havoc with schedules.
Take for example a recent dent to a Boeing 737-300 #1 engine nose cowl. The aircraft came into the gate; the mechanic walked around the airplane and noticed the dent to the nose cowl. Taking measurements he records it and then heads off to check records to see if it was previously written down and deferred out. Finding nothing previously in the records, the AMT implements a write-up recording it in the history.
Pulling out the repair manual, the AMT checks the manual and finds that the dent is outside of legal limits and will need to be repaired before further flight. Contacting a supervisor, the AMT advises him of the problem.
Now the problem is in the hands of the supervisor. Unable to defer the dent out due to the must fix under the repair manual the supervisor heads to the airplane to see for himself.
The AMT meets the supervisor at the airplane and shows him the dent, providing the manual to the supervisor which allows him to see for himself the legal limits. Obviously out of the limits that are showed in the manual for a dent in the leading edge of the nose cowl, the supervisor has to do some quick thinking. He knows the airplane is due to leave within the hour, looking up he can see that they are already boarding the plane.
Broaching an idea to the AMT, the supervisor shows that the dent is deep not wide and that that is what is going to cause the problem. The supervisor then suggests that if the dent was wider; it would be legal to fly before a repair is needed. The supervisor makes his idea known to the AMT, then makes the suggestion to the AMT to enlarge the dent.
Now here is a problem, for the AMT, who is dedicated to fixing problems and not to harming an aircraft. Does this then go against his honor, the FARs? The mechanic politely refuses to do what the supervisor requests.
The supervisor, time running out, hurriedly obtains a rubber mallet and a 2x4 piece of wood. Aligning the 2x4 over the dent, he commences pounding with the mallet on the piece of wood. After several hits, the dent is now larger than deeper, and measuring it, he decides that it is now in a legal to defer size.
While this is going on, passengers have been watching this impromptu repair. Also watching are several AMTs and other supervisors. Proceeding back into the building, the supervisor signs off on the AMT's write-up stating that the dent is actually within legal limits.
Now did the supervisor take into account hidden damage on the inside of the nose cowl? No! Did he take into account, that he was deliberately causing further damage? No! Did he take into account, what his actions showed to the people watching, both on the ground and on the plane? No! Did he endanger the lives of the passengers? Well the plane left and no further incidents were noted, but does this mean that AMTs should damage aircraft to get out of work? No!
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