This is a long-term, heavy metal bill of work. The program goal is to keep the Navy fleet of 147 P-3s operational until they are replaced by the B737-800 P-8s. Senior structural specialist technician, Jason Brown, a 15-year PI veteran, spoke to the scope of work for the P-3 SMIP contract that includes: “accomplishing all required modifications, conducting phased inspections, repairing all found discrepancies, and refurbishing the outer wings.”
According to Brown, the P-3s are taken to the paint hangar and stripped. The wings are removed and fitted on special dollies, placed on freight liners, and trucked across Waco to the Wing Shop. Inspectors and the Nondestructive Team (NDT) have a look and document their findings. The structural work consists of repairing or replacing main wing surfaces, supporting stringers, brackets, and clips. While the wings are in the shop the NDT team conducts ultrasound inspections of the fuselage wing mounting structures, area skin, and the tail section. All systems modifications and upgrades are accomplished during this visit. Depending on the findings, a P-3 can be in overhaul from nine to 18 months. After all the sustainment work has been completed, the refitted P-3 gets a new coat of primer and paint, and the Navy gets a serviceable aircraft ready for mission assignment.
I commented to Martin that PI must have a work force with the skills necessary to fulfill the diverse contracts that come through the Waco Center. The SOFIA project and other surveillance and military projects would require electronics and avionics experience. The Navy’s P-3 SMIP project needs heavy structure specialists.
Martin asked Brown to weigh in on that discussion. He agrees that PI is a great place to work. “We are a big family with a lot of skills and experience. We really enjoy working on the variety of projects that come through PI. We all like the challenges of working on new and complicated projects. When we have a big problem, all the departments will pull together to solve it.”
Asked if he had some tips for new AMTs or others looking to move to a division like PI, he says that “MRO operations are good places to work. Get your certificates, degrees, and work experience and be sure that you can work in confined spaces. You can come in through a program like the Texas State Technical College (TSTC) Aviation Career Education (ACE) program. I was hired through a predecessor to our ACE program many years ago.”
TSTC recruits qualified regional high school graduates into the ACE program where they complete the six-semester program and gain the necessary skills to become aircraft modification technicians. After demonstrating some success in the program, PI will pick up the student’s tuition and make them an intern. After students graduate and complete their internship, they must commit to two years of employment with PI.
I asked Martin about PI’s recruiting strategy: “We recruit throughout the U.S. and collaborate with TSTC. PI is like many similar companies. The work force is aging and we are seeing fewer candidates coming from the military and more coming directly from good technical and vocational schools.” He says that they “try to balance their work force with experienced staff and entry-level employees.” Many of PI’s staff members have degrees and A&P certificates (not required but encouraged to get it).
In the aviation industry some companies do better than others during these periods of budget cuts and austerity programs. MROs and specialty shops can actually thrive because companies, including the military, will delay building or buying new aircraft or expanding their operations, so they keep operating their existing fleets. This usually means opportunities for major modifications, systems upgrades, or delayed maintenance.
PI is positioned to capture more projects and additional sustainment work. Martin says that the company is working smarter and harder to make sure that it fulfills the U.S. Navy’s P-3 SMIP contract on time and within budget. It is also making capital and process improvements at the Waco facility in order to be more efficient and competitive. It air-conditioned its hangars and moved parts and hardware plane-side. These changes created a more comfortable working environment and eliminated the queues at the tool cribs and parts department.