From a human factors point of view, the act of inspecting another’s work needs to come with mutual acknowledgment by both parties that errors found are not a personal reflection of a mechanic’s technical competency. In fact, there is a tendency for the most egregious errors to be caused by the most experienced technicians since they are often the ones who are called on to perform the most challenging tasks. Though they are rare, the outcome of a slip or misjudgment on their part may result in more severe consequences.
If a little effort is applied, key elements of an inspection process similar to the required inspection processes in air carriers can be designed into any checklist in nearly any operation. By definition, a required inspection item (RII) is a maintenance item that, if improperly done, creates an immediate hazard to the flight. In this discussion I am going to refer to “RII-like” items as safety check items.
These items can be found on any aircraft of any type. The point here is to assure that there are no quality escapes in the work. It may seem that we are calling artillery on ourselves, but asking for a second set of eyes as a matter of practice will capture errors that, while embarrassing if found, are dangerous if not. Use of an “RII-like” process may never reveal an error. But it only has to do it once to make its use worthwhile.
In review of the aircraft systems and the inspection checklist, you can make some decisions on what to designate as a safety check item on the RII definition. For example, in performing a propeller installation, a key part of the installation would be the mounting bolt torques and their subsequent “safetying” with the right wire. The checklist could be formatted to show a verification of the torque and safeties by a second person. One mechanic does the work and another is tasked with witnessing the torque. Prior arrangement for this kind of activity is necessary. Also this is a safety check and not a return to service action. See Figure 5.
A search on the internet reveals that there are lots of checklists out there for the use of the general aviation mechanic. Some are very detailed. In addition, certain general aviation manufacturers publish annual inspection checklists that are configured to the aircraft and type. Use of these versions is recommended rather than using internally generated documents for inspection activities.
General aviation has been the source of much of the industry’s talent and innovation over the last century – from flying kites on a North Carolina beach to privatization of space travel. In spite of the individualistic and family like environments that persist and are the mainstay of general aviation, real skill sets are evolving that are highly effective and professional; not “mom and pop.” As we focus on industrial level maintenance activities associated with modern air transportation we can lose sight of that.
The lowly checklist can be used as the vehicle to connect all kinds of information together that paints a picture of effective processes and control on a scale that many in GA can relate to. By using a standardized method for performing aircraft maintenance, we create repeatability in our efforts to maintain and promote the highest level of safety in our operations.
Vern Berry began his aviation career as an A&P mechanic in 1979. His experience within the aviation industry includes key management roles in quality and safety for both MRO and air carrier operations. He currently resides in upper state New York where he writes and manages a consultant firm at www.blowntireaviation.com.