You have to know how to look
For those that are old enough, how many remember the Smothers Brothers? I saw them during the closing-night banquet at the recent NBAA show in Orlando. (They were funnier than I remembered when watching them on television years ago.) During their never-ending humor, one of them quipped, "I hate to beat a stick with a dead horse."
At the risk of doing the same, I would like to explore a subject that I have alluded to in previous articles but change my approach by appealing to a different audience. If you are from the maintenance department, perhaps you will show this article to your executives to help them better understand the importance of maintenance to your overall organization.
How important is the maintenance department?
How many remember the old joke where a number of organs in the human body are trying to convince each other that their role is the most vital to the continued functioning of the body. Each organ certainly has a compelling argument as it becomes apparent that without one, the others and, as a result, the body will cease to function.
I can make the same case for an aviation organization and its various departments. Without pilots, aircraft cannot be flown. Without schedulers, aircraft availability and location are difficult to determine. Without accounting, organizational performance is difficult to measure and long-term success is endangered. Without finance, critical cash flow may not be available. It quickly becomes apparent that each department within an organization is important. It must be or it shouldn’t exist.
The maintenance department offers the overall organization the best opportunity to control and reduce its current costs.
Conspicuous by its omission in the list of departments is maintenance. In most organizations some form of a maintenance department exists. Some have capabilities that can include heavy maintenance, refurbishments, and avionics, while others may have a lesser role by serving as coordinators for outside contractors. Regardless of its form, the maintenance function and its related costs do exist, therefore it must be important. But how important?
Without maintenance, aircraft would not fly, if for no other reason than failing to meet regulatory requirements. (And there are certainly more reasons.) While its relative importance cannot be questioned, unfortunately and frequently the maintenance department suffers an undeserved reputation when viewed by other departments. For example, uninformed accounting and financial departments can view the maintenance department as a consumer of many resources. In other words, the maintenance department exists but at a significant cost. Most would probably agree that aircraft are expensive to operate when viewed from a dollars-consumed perspective. (Judging a department based upon only the cost does not consider the whole picture. Don’t forget to consider the value of a department.)
What department has the most discretionary costs?
Despite this costs-to-operate situation, an opportunity exists for the organization and more specifically the manager of the maintenance department. Unlike many of the other departments’ costs, the maintenance department has a large amount of discretionary costs. Stated simply, the department has a certain level of control over whether or not it will incur a cost or, at the least, can influence the amount of a cost. This is not the situation for most costs in the other aviation departments.
An example: If a hangar cost is reviewed on an annual basis, the aviation department has some control over the amount of the rate once a year. The department could decide to change locations, negotiate, or extend the rental period to obtain a lower rate. The department has some discretion over the amount of the cost. However, during the year the aviation department has a very limited ability to change the negotiated rate. The cost during this period becomes non-discretionary.
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