Pushing Tin

Pushing Tin

By Jack Hessburg

November 1999

Jack Hessburg Jack Hessburg has over 40 years experience in aircraft maintenance. He is recently retired from The Boeing Co. where he served as Chief Mechanic. Hessburg holds an A&P certificate and a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Talking with Greg Napert recently, he reminded me of some comments I made during a presentation at a technical seminar. I frequently used the expression, "As a mechanic, I push tin." He said he at first didn't understand what I meant.

It suddenly became apparent to me that many may not understand that in the air carrier world there are different types of maintenance. It takes a different kind of mechanic to do the jobs unique to each type; both in technical skills and personality. Air carrier maintenance is divided into three distinct categories; bench, hangar, and line.

Bench maintenance consists of repair, overhaul or refurbishment of LRUs or major assemblies (i.e. powerplants), which have been removed from the airplane. Usually work is confined to one or more LRUs or at least to a given specialty (i.e. sheet metal work, accessory overhaul, etc.). There is a predictable workload. Proficiency in a number of maintenance disciplines is not required. Knowledge of the entire airplane and its systems is not required.

Hangar maintenance is that activity normally affiliated with work on the airplane when it is removed from the revenue schedule. It is predominately, though not exclusively, associated with the heavy checks (C & D) of scheduled maintenance; AD accomplishment; theincorporation of aircraft alterations; and structural repairs. Corrosion control tasks and discretionary work is also included.

Hangar maintenance is also predictable. It is performed in a benign atmosphere. Many times, it is in a nice, warm hangar rather than outside exposed to the adverse weather common to many stations. There is a defined work package. Maintenance arising from discrepancies that are found during inspection is less demanding, for time is allocated in the work package to correct discrepancies. Heavy checks may take from 5 to 25 days.

Line maintenance is that maintenance activity performed while the airplane is committed to the revenue schedule. It may be subdivided into turnaround or gate. Turnaround maintenance, also known as overnight maintenance, is performed at terminating locations in the flight schedule. Time available may be 8 to 16 hours or more. The environment is less demanding than when the airplane is committed to the revenue schedule. The work is predictable. Many times it is accomplished by line maintenance mechanics. The work usually consists of a daily check. Logbook discrepancies including outstanding MEL deferrals are corrected. Passenger service equipment discrepancies are corrected. Servicing is accomplished. Additionally scheduled maintenance (i.e. portions of a phased check) may be performed at stations having a long turnaround. Depending upon time and manpower availability, discretionary tasks may be included. AD note accomplishment may also be included in the work package.

Gate maintenance is performed prior to the airplane departure either originating a flight or handling a transit flight. This is the job that I refer to as "pushing tin." It is incidental to scheduled flight operations. Time available is normally limited to usually 40 to 60 minutes, but may be as low as 20 minutes. Equipment and manpower are also limited. Work mostly consists of a visual check of the airplane exterior with particular attention to indications of fuel or oil leaks, obvious discrepancies such as worn or flat tires, low shock struts, fuselage or wing damage and a review of aircraft log discrepancies.

Gate mechanics must be able to think on their feet. They live in the most intense, schedule driven, results oriented environment in aviation. Theirs is an ad hoc world. It is impossible to plan failures on inbound airplanes or to prepare. There is little time for deliberation or research of problems. They have the privilege of working in the rain or snow on a windy ramp at all hours of the day and night including holidays and Sundays.

Gate maintenance is an irreverent place. Mechanics love to be irreverent. They are notorious for their banter. They delight in being mischievous. But don't be misled by this. Mechanics are not irresponsible. The irreverent mischievous persona keeps them from worrying too much about the incredible amount of responsibility related to signing off an airplane and watching it roll down the runway with 330 people on board. Gate mechanics are the people that give you 98.5 percent "dispatch reliability." If they don't sign the logbook, the airplane is not going to leave. I have a soft spot for them.

They are true airmen. They "push tin."