Now that regional airlines are carrying more than 50 percent of the air carrier passenger load, more and more scrutiny is being placed on how those airlines perform — and particularly, how they perform maintenance.
Of course, the fact that the last major airline accident involved a regional airline — Colgan Air Flight 3407 operating as Continental Connection — adds to the scrutiny. And while that accident in February of 2009 into a residential area on the outskirts of Buffalo, NY, did not involve maintenance, the focus on regional carriers has extended to maintenance.
A recently issued Department of Transportation Inspector General report criticized the FAA for failing to live up to one of its post-Colgan accident commitments — to review whether airline agreements contain economic disincentives to safety. Of specific concern to the IG was whether on-time performance requirements placed on regional carriers by mainline airlines could compromise safety.
Of course, the pressure to move aircraft to meet a schedule exists at every carrier; it just may be greater at a regional carrier with specific economic penalties for failing to meet on-time performance goals. So how can a mechanic help his or her company safely meet these on-time performance goals? I believe it begins with carefully documenting findings and recording even minor maintenance discrepancies so that they can be monitored or scheduled for repair or replacement before they become no-go items.
I know that writing long maintenance entries is not what many mechanics like to do — nor is it necessarily encouraged by foremen or maintenance supervisors — but the only way to get ahead of a potential looming problem is to know that it is beginning to manifest itself. So let’s take an example that may seem minor but can and has grounded aircraft or led to FAA enforcement action when an aircraft wasn’t grounded — a door decal that visually demonstrates how to open the cabin door in the event of an emergency.
This particular interior decal gets exposed to the elements when the door is opened and rubbed against by crewmembers and mechanics opening and closing or working on the door. Over time, the information on the decal becomes worn or even torn, making the information difficult or impossible to read. An illegible decal would clearly be a problem in the event of an actual emergency requiring a passenger unfamiliar with how the door operated to open the door if the arrow on the decal was not sufficiently clear.
This decal — as well as many other small items necessary to repair or replace interior items, including seat mechanisms — are often not available at every line station. So, advance warning would allow the items to be procured and made available so they could be dealt with in a timely manner.
All mechanics have an interest in keeping costs down for their companies — if for no other reason than it’s a good way to preserve their own jobs. I believe that keeping track of small maintenance issues as they begin to emerge is one way to avoid costly maintenance delays or cancellations.
John Goglia has 40+ years experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.