Human Factors Challenges

General aviation and airline maintenance solutions


Airline maintenance organizations, of all sizes, have many programs to help manage human error. Organizations with European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) repair station certificates have mandatory human factors requirements. Other airlines and MROs, without such regulations, choose to implement human factors programs to reduce human error, ensure continuing safety, and control cost. Addressing human performance is simply, good business. This article looks at eight maintenance human factors challenges and solutions that are working in general aviation (GA) and airline maintenance organizations.

Airline maintenance/MRO organizations and regulations

One might envision airline maintenance organizations (14 CFR Part 121 or 135) or maintenance and repair organizations (MROs) (14 CFR Part 145) as large factories with hundreds, if not thousands, of maintenance workers. Well, that vision is not correct. Aviation maintenance is comprised of a lot of small businesses. Here are some interesting facts:

  • Thirty of the 4,100 repair stations that hold a U.S. Part 145 certificate have more than 2,000 employees.
  • Fifty percent of the repair stations have less than 10 employees.
  • More than 80 percent have less than 50 employees.
  • Thirty percent of U.S. repair stations hold EASA certificates.
  • Since the larger repair stations have the EASA certificates, one can estimate that more than half of U.S. airline and airline MRO mechanics work both EASA rules and FAA rules.

General aviation maintenance organizations

Some may have an inaccurate vision of general aviation maintenance organizations. They are seldom merely small hangars working at a slow pace. Like airlines and MROs, GA shops are mostly small businesses. They are geographically dispersed and serve considerably more owner-customers than the big guys. GA shops service diverse aircraft types and have more individuals/owners telling them not only to hurry up but also to keep the cost low. These small shops do not have the economy-of-scale, like airlines and MROs, when it comes to investing in equipment, documentation systems, and other business processes.

Similar challenges

Although we have highlighted the differences, when you compare GA to air carrier maintenance there are likely more similarities than differences. Both groups have the challenge of finding, training, and keeping qualified personnel. Both struggle with the challenge of maintaining aging aircraft while staying abreast with the evolving aircraft, systems, avionics, and test equipment technology. Both groups feel the pinch of providing fair wages and benefits while trying to control the cost of every person-hour involved in maintenance. Both struggle to minimize the cost of mistakes and maximize the continuing aircraft and worker safety. Finally, both groups cope with the human factors that affect nearly every challenge listed above.

Shared human factors challenges

In 2010 FAA sponsored a small invited workshop to identify the critical human factors challenges in maintenance. All segments of aviation maintenance personnel assembled to create a list of the “top eight” human factors challenges (See Table 1). By the way, a European group also created a list of maintenance human factors challenges with considerable overlap with the U.S. list. Let’s look at airline and general aviation maintenance approaches to these U.S. challenges.

1. Documentation and procedures

Technical documentation and procedures are a big challenge for everyone! It is the No. 1 reason that the FAA takes actions against aviation maintenance technicians, that mechanics complete the NASA Aviation Safety Reports, and that MROs run into errors and reworks. Airlines and MROs work from a combination of manufacturers’ publications and company work cards. The challenge is to keep things up to date and to continuously ensure that instructions are compatible. For the MROs it is especially tough because they must use the work cards for each airline customer. There are as many ways to complete a specific task as there are customers.

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