The Repair Station Business
Working in a regulated industry
By Joe Hertzler
All business is regulated to one extent or another, but those of us in the aircraft maintenance repair station business are held to a little higher standard than similar companies in other industries. We are subject to regular inspections and audits from the FAA to ensure that we are in compliance with the regulations that govern the work we do and that the aircraft we approve for return to service are delivered airworthy.
One thing is for sure, business is business and to stay in business, no matter how tight the regulations, a business must be profitable. I believe that it’s the technician on the hangar floor, working to resolve the latest discrepancy on the aircraft that brings profitability to today’s repair station. This month, I want to look at a few of the things that can get in the way of the technician who is working hard to stay profitable.
Is the process you use efficient?
In years past, the Corporate Aviation maintenance repair station business played a different role in our industry. We supported a very active new aircraft sales group and enjoyed fairly significant new parts margins when we sold parts in addition to the maintenance we performed. Today, it is a little different picture. Manufacturers are handling the sale of most new business aircraft and the parts margins are dwindling. Today, the Corporate Aviation maintenance repair station business must be efficient at completing the work as well and make a profit on labor.
So, whose job is it to get the work done, with the highest quality and in the shortest time? You guessed it, yours. But what about all those regulations? Who is going to comply with all that paper work stuff? You guessed it, you. Get it done fast and in compliance? Seems like those two don’t go together. Well, they do. No one ever said that getting the work done quickly meant sacrificing quality. As a matter of fact, organizing the work so that it gets accomplished in a pre-defined order, with the right tools and the right team usually means faster and with higher quality. Where we usually run into the conflict is with the FAA. In order to incorporate new procedures, we are required to get the FAA involved, and for most of us, that’s like going to the dentist. The FAA will often throw up a brick wall to new procedures not because the procedure is not in compliance, but because they may not have seen it done that way before. To be able to accept the procedure, your inspector would have to research and discover how your new procedure is in compliance. He or she already knows that the old procedure is in compliance and would rather that you just keep doing it (whatever it is) your old way. Like it or not, the FAA’s job is to make sure you are working in compliance with the regulations, not to make it easy for you.
The FAA is not concerned with your profitability
The fact is, it’s not the FAA’s job to make you profitable. It’s the FAA’s job to make sure you’re complying with the regulation and that you run a safe operation. To that end, the FAA primary inspector assigned to your repair station comes by at least once each year to "inspect" your operation. They want to know if you are still following the procedures that were accepted when you applied for and received the repair station certificate.
The development of new procedures that increase the efficiency of your team is dynamic and really should never end. The sad thing is many don’t even try, or they develop and implement new procedures without getting input from the FAA and then get a nasty-gram from the FSDO following the yearly inspection.
Getting new procedures accepted by the FAA can be a time consuming process for someone, likely the Chief inspector or Director of Quality. However, the time is very well spent when the new procedures can improve your profitability. And the time it takes to get approval or acceptance can be reduced greatly with a little planning up front.