Air Carrier Maintenance

Air Carrier Maintenance

By Jack Hessburg

July 1999

Jack Hessburg

Until recently (I've just retired), I was Chief Mechanic for the Boeing Company. It was my job to represent the interests of the air carrier maintenance community in the design of the new 777 and other new transport airplanes. The job got started because the powers-that-be in Mahogany Row said, "How is it the pilots are always represented in the design, but the maintenance people are not?" Nobody in the room had an answer. So, the next thing in the discussion was to conclude that "Maybe we should have somebody do this." A new job was created.

I am an A&P and a mechanical engineer. I've been in the business for over 40 years. I have taught in mechanic schools, worked for foreign and domestic airlines as a mechanic and engineer, and for manufacturers as a designer. I am an airline guy, having worked both in maintenance and flight operations. The first half of my career was spent at the airlines, and the second with Boeing in the customer support organization to take care of the airlines.

AMT has asked me to write a regular column for the magazine, which speaks to maintenance subjects associated with large airplanes and air carrier operations. But, maintenance is maintenance. Some things are different within the airline world, but much of what I am going to say in future columns applies to all types of flying machines and operations.

I plan to talk about many things. How does international aviation work? What is airworthiness? How are large airplanes designed and certified? What do maintainability and reliability engineers do? How do I live in a digital computer world and troubleshoot complex systems?

The world of the airline mechanic needs to be explained. FAR Part 66 from my corner of the world should be a fun discussion. The issues surrounding third-party maintenance and its relationship to airlines is an interesting subject to examine. Bogus parts are an issue with the airlines that needs to be examined.

I am not a reserved, withdrawn guy. I will say things that don't follow the "conventional wisdom" and may be arguable. But that is what I want — to stimulate your thinking and discussions and cause you to be critical in your evaluation of the problems that face maintenance people. And, I hope to tutor you about the design, maintenance and use of large transport airplanes and how airlines function. It is a fun world.

So let's begin. I think the first thing we should look at is what an airline is. Then, we can examine how maintenance must contribute to the airline objectives.

There is a story about Bob Six when he was running Continental Airlines. It is said that he kept in his office, directly across from his desk, a picture of a triple seat. He used to say the picture reminded him everyday as to what his business commitment really was. It was his job, as he saw it, to put hot butts in seats and boxes into pits and move them from A to B safely, on time, and at a profit. This is the purpose of any airline. Airlines are in the transportation business, not the airplane business. They do not exist to purchase shiny aluminum monuments from Boeing and Airbus so mechanics and engineers can play with them. Airplanes are only revenue-producing tools to them.

With this perspective, air carrier maintenance is not just about keeping airplanes safe; it is about keeping them available to produce revenue. Without available airplanes, the airline will go broke because there are no seats to accommodate the butts. Seats and cargo compartments are the ultimate revenue-producing tools — now that should not be difficult to understand.

I used to work for a VP of Maintenance who loved to say, "Nobody in this department makes money for the company, we just squander resources." It was his way of saying that you don't make money doing maintenance. But, that is not entirely true. Maintenance departments must plan and work to minimize the time the airplane must be removed from service. This increases its availability to produce revenue. It also can forestall the airline from being forced to buy more airplanes to meet schedule demands. Suppose I went to the bookkeeper at the airline and said to him, "I can give you 245 days of available revenue flying per airplane per year instead of 230 and I will do it through smarter maintenance." That bookkeeper and, I might add the VP of Marketing, would think there really is a Santa Claus. Smart maintenance does make money.

Big airplanes are just like little airplanes. They need inspections and checks in order to keep them airworthy, except big airplanes require more checks than little airplanes. Now to keep the airplane available, the first solution is to accomplish these tasks to minimize the time out of service. This can be done easily. Perform maintenance during periods when people don't like to fly. That's why airline mechanics do much of their work at night. It requires that we define the inspection tasks so that they may be defined by small, discreet packages.

The second solution is to avoid delays and cancellations when the airplane is committed to the revenue schedule. This can be done through deferred maintenance. If a system or component becomes inoperative, is it possible to defer repair until a more convenient time and place? If this is possible then we can keep the airplane available.

Maintenance departments must accomplish this objective while controlling costs and resources. This includes picking airplanes that are highly reliable with minimum maintenance requirements. So, keeping airplanes available is not just the VP of Maintenance's job, it reaches back into the way the airplane is designed.

Welcome to my world, and put a picture of a triple seat on your roll-away.