‘Tis the Season

Cover Story

‘Tis the Season

Winter is not far off and the GSE Maintenance Technicians at United Airlines' O'Hare facility in Chicago are busy with prepping UAL's fleet of deicing equipment while moving into a brand-new GSE maintenance facility, writes Michelle Garetson

By Michelle Garetson/p>

By Michelle Garetson

September 2002

September cover imageHard to think of deicing on a sweltering August day, but this is when the work needs to be done. In addition, United is gearing up for the opening of its new, state-of-the-art Ground Equipment Maintenance facility and when GSE Today was there, they were in the process of moving out of their current facility - an old aircraft hangar, and into a new, $46 million facility, which is directly opposite the main entrance of the current hangar. The old building is quite visible from the air and those of us who fly in and out of Chicago O'Hare Airport can easily spot the rather retro-looking, large red UNITED AIR LINES sign affixed to the front of the old building. Five years in the making and what a difference from old to new. Even though everything's in a bit of a state right now, the United GSE Maintenance team is still taking care of the business at hand of performing service checks on its deicing fleet to prepare for the upcoming winter season.

Team Approach
United has approximately 150 GSE maintenance technicians that are divided into teams that work on a three shifts per day basis. All of the GSE mechanics and ramp workers are a part of a team based on a product category.

Deicing Team lead mechanic

United's Lead Mechanics on the Deicing Team, Mike Innes and Scott McLeod, are two GSE mechanics with 24 years and 15 years, respectively with the airline. They work all year long with the same team on UAL's deicing equipment. The deicing team is a higher level of team assignment and mechanics and ramp employees have to work toward this team. United began the team concept to help promote better equipment care and maintenance accountability, as well as to boost morale and professionalism of the employees. This team approach seems to work as evidenced by Innes and McLeod's long tenures. In fact, Innes and McLeod offered that the most junior member of the deicing team has been with them for six years.

Prior to the team approach, the mechanics and ramp workers would come in to work and discover an array of broken down vehicles outside the shop doors with no notes on the problem, or, if there even was a problem, which made diagnosis difficult and time-consuming.

Now, the Ramp team keeps control of the inventory. "Used to find trucks scattered everywhere," says McLeod, "now we don't have to track it."

Having the ramp team in place means the 'bogus breakdowns' have disappeared.

"In the past," reminisces McLeod, "if the deicers didn't want to be out there, they'd dump it [truck] off outside the facility and then leave."

Ramp workers on the team have a sense of responsibility and ownership for these vehicles and now make sure Innes and McLeod know the exact status of the equipment at any given time.

A system that aids United employees with the tracking of equipment as well as security is called the CDPD (Cellular Digital Packaged Data). This system relays GPS data as well as information about the vehicle. The daily user checks are done by the operators of the vehicles and this data is sent to a centralized computer that records the confirmation. This puts accountability on the user of the vehicle to ensure that it meets safety requirements. The hours of utilization are also updated to the central computer so that regular PM service can be performed.

Readiness Day
"October 15th is 'Readiness Day'. We're pretty much starting on August 1st with PMs," Innes explains.

United's fleet of deicing trucks is mixed and consists of 10 Premiers, 25 Trumps, and 12 Vestergaard Elephant Betas. Both Innes and McLeod like the Betas for maintainability. "They're designed with maintenance in mind," offers McLeod.

New equipment purchases ceased as of September 11, 2001 but because the funding had already gone through for the new maintenance facility, that project, items such as new, in-floor vehicle lifts, and anything else for the new building, were allowed. Innes, McLeod and the rest of their teams are excited about moving into the new maintenance building.

"We've been sharing this hangar with the aircraft maintenance mechanics," says Innes, "and they'll be glad to get their space back when we leave."

Maintenance Philosophy
United's maintenance philosophy prefers the preventative approach with safety as the top priority. Dividing a deicing truck in half, Innes and McLeod predict that from the middle on forward, the 'B'-check service check takes 16 hours. The middle to back is twice as long at 32 hours. Every "squawk" is noted and will be attended to following the completed check.

"Unless it's a safety item," says Innes and McLeod in unison, "then it gets fixed right away."

The team approach seems to work well for the GSE maintenance technicians during the course of the service checks.

"As a team, we decide the best way to approach maintenance after the preliminary checks," explains Innes. "I hate paperwork and Scott is great with paperwork." He adds, "I'll take the greasy and dirty jobs."

Maintenance Checklists
Deicing equipment undergoes a 500-hour service check where things like filters are changed and then the 1,000-hour service check, where the tanks are drained, and more intensive maintenance inspection and troubleshooting take place.

Each truck type has its own checklist that the deicing team follows to assure nothing is overlooked.

"It's easier to use the checklist to test hydraulics than to start tearing down the boom to figure out why the boom won't reach full extension," says McLeod.

The checklist for the 'B'-check on UAL's Trump D40D and D240 deicers has approximately 100 items to examine, while the newer Vestergaard Betas' checklist has roughly 120 items to include a testing of its electrical system.

The first order of business on all equipment is the Operations Check. Deicing trucks are driven around, brakes, steering, heaters/defrosters, and transmissions shifts are checked as are "moving parts" such as the windshield wipers and deicing booms.

Working from the outside to the inside, and front to back, mechanics first inspect the front chassis and cab for visible damage or problems with the truck body, headlights, boom beacon lights, windshields, windows, seals, and tires. Inside the cab, all gauges, latches, door handles and window cranks are checked, as are safety-related items such as the condition non-slip surface of the brake pad and operation of the parking brake.

From here, transmission, differential, and brake fluid levels are inspected. The steering gear assembly and related components are inspected and the front and rear springs, mounts, and U-bolts are checked for wear and fatigue.

The front engine inspection follows to include items such as filter replacement, fuel system/fuel line inspection, alternator output testing, starter operation, load testing of batteries, and exhaust system testing. The coolant system is pressurized and inspected for leakage.

Hydraulic system inspection involves the checking for leaks, filter and hydraulic oil replacement, right down to proper safety signage with the display of the emergency lowering placard.

Deicing Fleet service checks Deicing Truck

Next, the pumps, filters, air cleaners, cooling systems, fans, hoses, belts, of the rear engine or auxiliary engine are checked over.

The rear station control panel involves the inspection of all lights, gauges, and communication system. Wiring, electrical connections, and Amp plugs are checked for corrosion and chafing. Any emergency shut-offs are also checked for proper functionability.

A boom structure and operational inspection is completed to include an integrity check of bolts, locks, and gears, boom movements and reach, as well as emergency lowering systems, emergency hydraulic pump operation, and the safety of guardrails and ladders.

Computer Diagnostics
Dave Madson, Technical Support Specialist with Vestergaard Co. Inc. in McHenry, Illinois, explains that the deicers that have been produced since about 1997 have an onboard computer system called a PLC (Program Logic Controller). This unit has grown in sophistication over the past years and now handles complete control of the deicer functions, which allows for greater flexibility and options to be offered to meet a specific customers requirements. Updates can be done to fine-tune the deicer's operation or an added function can be added without a lot of modification to the unit.

One of the big advantages of using the PLC is that it allows the user to plug in a diagnostic box (Breakout box) and interrogate the computer for troubleshooting faults as well as making routine adjustments. The computer will give the technician a diagnostic code that narrows down a fault and facilitates a timely repair. The technician can refer to a troubleshooting fault list that will guide him or her towards the right diagnostic flow chart. In the event of a really troublesome problem, a laptop computer can be directly plugged into the computer on the truck and a field technician can monitor in real-time what the software program is doing. This is a very useful tool when diagnosing an intermittent problem.

This technology has been widely used in the automotive industry for the past 20 years and is now gaining wide acceptance in the area of GSE equipment. In the last 5 years, this technology has grown in use in the GSE industry.

Temperatures will be dropping soon and the meticulous preliminary maintenance performed on the fleet in the heat of summer will have paid off for this United team when the deicing season begins.