Do You Speak Aircraft Maintenance?

Do You Speak Aircraft Maintenance?

By Fred Workley

October 1999

Fred Workley

If someone asks you if you speak a foreign language what do you tell them, "Yes, French and German"? Why don't you tell them that you speak Aircraft Maintenance?

Whether you have been in the aviation maintenance profession for forty years or the ink is still wet on your new Airframe and Powerplant certificate, you are literate in the language of aircraft maintenance. When we use aviation maintenance jargon on someone outside of our business, however, it probably sounds like a foreign language. Some of what we know is learned in school, and some, out of books or magazines like AMT. Other lessons were learned the hard way, by experience. How many times have you heard, "Do it right the first time and you won't lose money doing it over." Sometimes the first time is a learning experience and you never do it that way again. No one ever wants Skydrol in their eyes a second time.

Maybe it's time to rethink what we might call "aviation mechanic/technician literacy." Maintenance literacy isn't just a list of books or magazines or words, but instead it is a list of information that you need to be successful in maintaining aircraft. The key to success is that we have to communicate effectively with words that we know to have the same meaning in our shared, aviation culture to determine what is wrong with the airplane and how to repair it.

A Federal Aviation Administration document titled "Training and Certification in the Aircraft Maintenance Industry," noted that aviation operators need both generalists and specialists to assure the airworthiness of aircraft. Those holding an A&P certificate verify by their signature, that the aircraft has been maintained and inspected in accordance with the required maintenance manuals and instructions for airworthiness. Tasks must be done by someone who understands the maintenance requirements, the applicable FAA regulations, and is familiar with the aircraft manufacturer's specifications.

On the other hand, specialists, some of whom hold repairman certificates, work in FAA-certificated repair stations or airline maintenance facilities. They are not required to possess an A&P certificate and can only sign for the tasks for which they are qualified. The specialists possess skills and knowledge in specific disciplines.

Differences between a generalist and a specialist has widened with changes in technology and aircraft complexity. We have two different aviation groups that must communicate effectively with each other. They must speak the "aircraft maintenance language."

Aircraft are becoming more and more separated by advanced systems as are the procedures used to operate and maintain them. More important, the ability of pilots and aviation maintenance technicians to master the newest technology and to continue their proficiency with the oldest technology in the fleet is becoming increasingly difficult. Pilots and maintenance professionals must also speak the same "aircraft maintenance language."

I contend that as we go into the 21st century, we in the aviation maintenance field may be due to review and redefine what we need to know to be successful in the next 20, 50, and 100 years. In the aftermath of the proposed Part 66 process and possible industry review of Part 145, we need some direction — we have an aviation culture to sustain.

To be culturally literate in the language of maintenance, we must all possess the same basic, correct information. We all need the same network of knowledge with the same frame of reference that will enable us to consistently find the correct solution. Success in keeping aircraft flying depends on the cooperation of different people in different places who communicate effectively using the same language of "maintenance."

We have to understand a lot of information that is part of our aviation maintenance cultural knowledge. The knowledge gained in basic training doesn't in itself make us good mechanics. It is how we can apply our knowledge to repairing the aircraft that really keeps 'em flying.