You don’t know what you don’t know
By Joe Escobar
Training. In aviation, it is a fact of life. From company training to OEM specialized training and even FAA training, there are many resources available for A&Ps wishing to further their knowledge. Yet there are a few mechanics who don’t see any value in training and offer comments such as "I have worked on aircraft for years, I don’t need to be trained" or "I know what I’m doing — I don’t have time for all that feel-good, mumbo jumbo."
To emphasize the importance of training, Rodger Holmstrom, the Airworthiness Safety Program Manager for the FAA’s Birmingham, Alabama FSDO, has developed a presentation called the "Eye Opener." It has fostered an increased commitment to training by mechanics who have attended the seminar, as well as increased participation in the AMT Awards Program. I was invited to attend his presentation earlier this year, and was truly impressed. The response from those in attendance was overwhelming. Many of the mechanics who were there, thanked him for opening their eyes to the importance of training. The following is based on his presentation.
Proud to be a mechanic
The year was 1903. The Wright brothers completed the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk. The Wright brothers had a great idea and Charles Taylor made it happen. He designed, built, installed, rigged, and tuned the engine that powered the Wright Flyer into history. Like mechanics today, his contribution to that eventful flight was not celebrated. He stood in the shadows of Orville and Wilbur with the proud knowledge that he made it happen.
Mechanics are taken for granted. We are the foundation of aviation. And, like the foundation of a building, we go unseen by most. Nobody walks up to a great building like the Washington Monument and says "Wow! What a great foundation!" Yet, you pull that foundation out from under it, and you’ve got a problem.
Like the foundation of a great building, mechanics are susceptible to erosion. We are susceptible to erosion by ignorance. One might be overheard saying, "I’m not ignorant — I just didn’t know." In the field of aircraft maintenance, ignorance can be lethal.
The good news is that there is an anti-ignorance program called the FAA AMT Awards Program. This program promotes participation in initial and recurrent training. The FAA recognizes eligible mechanics and their employers by issuing awards to those who receive and foster training.
So, why is the FAA so interested in initial and recurrent training? Because without it, you don’t know what you don’t know. Think about that statement for awhile. It is an interesting thought.
The following are true stories. They are not about dishonest people. They are not about crooks. They are about sincere, honest, hardworking mechanics. They had all the best intentions. But they all had one thing in common — they didn’t know what they didn’t know.
Registration certificate replacement
Replacing the registration certificate doesn’t require any special knowledge or training — right? After all, it’s just a piece of paper that is secured to the interior sidewall with a plastic cover that is held on by a few screws. It is just a simple task. What could go wrong?
While en route in normal cruise flight, the pilot reported smoke in the cockpit and requested to divert. Smoke filled the cabin, and the passengers were terrified that they were going to crash. A descent was commenced, and the aircraft landed safely at Birmingham, Alabama. Upon inspection, a charred hole was found at the Registration Certificate. The mechanic who had replaced the certificate thought that since it was just a piece of plexiglass covering a certificate, it didn’t matter what screw he used to secure it. He used slightly longer screws with points to them. What he didn’t realize was that there was high amperage wiring behind the sidewall. Over time, the screw ended up chafing a hole in the wire insulation, causing severe arcing before the slow-blow circuit protector blew. Once the arcing commenced, it caused a smoldering fire in the adjacent area. A point to note is that in some aircraft, an oxygen line runs in this same general area. Had a short like this occurred in the immediate vicinity of that oxygen line, the aircraft could have experienced a catastrophic explosion.
Judge faults inspectors for not communicating with the aircraft owner or the mechanic before initiating the revocation order.
More than manipulating a spray gun
FAA alleges that during an annual inspection, an NJ mechanic falsified records concerning an ELT battery, and that he returned the aircraft to service with airframe corrosion.