Which rule is the one that if only one percent of the mechanics broke it, the result would be the complete failure of the aviation maintenance industry?
Please take a few minutes to think of your candidate, then read on.
I hope you pondered the question for at least 30 seconds. My vote for the most important rule was Federal Aviation Regulation section 43.12, which covers falsification or alterations of maintenance entries.
You say, "Hey, O'Brien, why not FAR 43.13, Performance rules or FAR 91.409, Inspections or FAR 39, Airworthiness Directives?"
You are absolutely right! These three FARs are our major heavy-duty maintenance safety rules. If you screw up one of these rules, the log book police are all over you. So why pick a relatively minor rule that says you're a bad boy if you falsify maintenance records or alter them in any way?
The reason why, my friends, that I believe the most important rule is FAR 43.12 is very simple. Our entire aviation maintenance industry is built on our own personal honor and trust of mechanics. This somewhat idealistic notion that personal integrity and professionalism forms the very core of the aviation maintenance profession goes back to the Wright brothers.
We depend on the single concept that each of the 150,000-plus men and women who maintain and inspect aircraft will do each repair, alteration, and inspection to the highest industry and personal standards.
Think about this. When you make a maintenance entry, and you must each time you exercise the privileges of your certificate, you sign your name and certificate number. By doing so, you have not merely satisfied an FAR. What you have done was give the rest of us in this industry and your government, your word of honor. You certify that your work has been done right. Not 50 percent right, not 90 percent right, but a 100 percent right. That is why I call it the 100 percent rule.
However, if this was a perfect world, when you read some other mechanic's entry, his word of honor — his written statement should be accepted by you with the same respect and trust as you would like your maintenance entry to be accepted. Sadly, this is not a perfect world, so you do not accept every entry at face value. Why?
There are those among us who deliberately falsify records. The important word here to focus on is "deliberately." That is why FAR 43.12 was written. If you notice, it has an even number suffix number (12), so it was written after the Federal Aviation Regulations were re-codified from the Civil Air Rules in 1965. So, 43.12 was written in our maintenance career lifetime. The 100 percent rule tells us all that any perversion of this mutual trust among mechanics, any selling of one's honor that would compromise our record system, will not be tolerated by the United States government.
Why does the government consider the maintaining of maintenance records integrity so important? Records ensure safety and accountability! Industry and FAA recognize that even a relatively small amount of maintenance records' falsification, let's say just 5 percent, would cause the trust in our record system and our industry to collapse.
Why? Who would trust a record system that was only 95 percent accurate? Who among us would like to do an inspection on such an aircraft and then have to sign the log books with our name? What passenger would buy a ticket or what pilot would fly if he or she could only be assured of a 95 percent chance of getting to their destination in one piece?
Those who falsify records know it is wrong. It is an ethical problem — not a human factors problem. It is a yes or no decision. Those who autograph a lie, try to rationalize their actions to soften the guilt. They claim they do it for many good reasons like meeting a gate time or they have to do it in order to keep their job, or they make promises to themselves to fix it later when they can buy the parts, etc, etc, etc.
I would like to tell them this for the record. There is NO EXCUSE that justifies the falsification of aircraft records. Record falsification is a lie! And every written lie chisels away our honor as mechanics and at the trust the rest of our industry has in our profession.
Record falsification does two things: Identify the liar by name and certificate number, and put the lives of those who fly and those on the ground at great risk.
I also include in this sad company, technicians - FAA certificated or not - who perform work on aircraft and do not sign off on the work. They do not sign the record because they used inferior parts, or their workmanship is poor, or both.
As you may have guessed, my feelings are very strong on this subject of record falsification. I would like to make three more comments on why I believe this is FAR 43.12 is the most important rule.
First, I would like to inform the young men and women presently in FAA approved Part 147 Aviation Maintenance Technician schools that I personally guarantee that during the course of their aviation career, there is a 75 percent chance that within the first 18 months in the career that you will be asked to falsify a record at least once. It might be your boss, your lead man, your customer, your fellow mechanic. They will tell you that the problem will be worked at the next gate, or next inspection. Just sign off the work/AD/inspection and we will make it right later. One lie begets another and another. If lie the first time, it will be only the first of many times you will be asked to do so. All it takes is just one mechanic with the personal courage to stand up and say NO!
By saying NO the first time and every time thereafter, identifies you as a person who believes in our system of mutual trust, a person of honor and integrity. I will not sugarcoat the personal cost of being a person of honor.
By saying NO, it also makes you a target. Your stand for honesty and integrity in a very competitive business like aviation, is not without its risks. You will be very much alone. Yes, you might even lose your job, or take a personal financial hit, or lose a promotion. You will be accused by your supervisor of the worst possible infraction — not being a "team player" and branded as a disgruntled employee.
Despite the private hell you create for yourself, I assure you, that you will be respected as a maintenance professional by your peers. And although your peers will not admit it, including those who ask you to make a fraudulent entry, they will privately, albeit grudgingly, give you respect for your act of courage.
Who knows, your courage may inspire another to take the big risk, to defend the principles and ethics of our profession, to stand and be counted.
Second, I would like to address those among us who falsified records in the past and make just two comments. One, you must do it no more! Two, it is never too late to gain back your self-respect your honor, and your personal pride.
To rejoin our ranks and retrieve one's honor you must ensure that the aircraft or components you signed off illegally is 100 percent airworthy and the records corrected. You cannot justify your decision on how much it is going to cost you to make things right. Who can place a dollar figure on one's HONOR? More importantly, lives are at stake here and this should be your first consideration and your top priority to make it right.
To correct one's own mistakes voluntarily is hard, but worthy of our industry's respect and admiration. I personally would like to shake your hand and welcome you back.
Lastly, for those among us who don't care to change, I give you fair warning for the new millennium. If you continue to keep making those false entries and keep destroying our profession's honor one lie at a time, I assure you that you will be caught and you will pay a very dear price! The second paragraph of the 100 percent rule allows for not only suspending or revoking your airframe or powerplant certificate but also taking your pilots certificate, operator or production certificate, Technical Standard Order Authorization, Parts Manufacturer Approval, Product or Process specification. After the FAA is done with you, then you may get to learn the legal process in civil court.
I apologize for those who didn't need this sermon and for starting the new year off with a somewhat Draconian diatribe along with the associated threats and punishment. As I explained, the need for personal honor and integrity is very important to me and my profession. I hope the 100 percent rule will become just as important to you for the same reasons.