Industry Viewpoint: The 5 Habits of Highly Effective Inspectors

Oct. 3, 2011

Good inspectors are made not born. It takes training, time, and experience. And the ability to observe and learn from those who have been doing inspections for a long time. Over the 40 years that I’ve been in aviation maintenance, I’ve done a lot of inspections and learned from some of the real pros in the business. But I’m not afraid to admit that I wasn’t always good. 

It was not long after I took a job as a full-time inspector, that I learned a valuable lesson that I carry with me to this day. I was assigned to inspect an engine firewall after the engine was removed. As many of you know, this is the only opportunity to do a complete inspection of this area and since engines have become so reliable, it can be a long time between inspections. A  thorough inspection is, therefore, critical.

After performing the inspection, I came in with my clipboard and nonroutine items which numbered approximately six. My supervisor was clearly not impressed with the number of findings and went out to take a look himself. He came back with more than 20 nonroutine items. I must admit that I was somewhat incredulous and went back to double check. Sure enough, I had missed every single item he had found. The upshot is, I started listening and observing the more experienced inspectors more closely until I eventually garnered their skills.

Over the years, I have collected a few pointers that I believe separate the really good inspectors from the just adequate ones. Being really good is critically important to the continued safety and airworthiness of the aircraft we maintain.

1. Off with the rose-colored glasses. Inspectors need to find problems and going in with the right attitude is imperative. If you think everything is going to be OK, you are more likely to miss small problems that can propagate and become big problems. Good inspectors know that inspection is definitely not where you want to see the world as a perfect place. After all, we can’t fix what we don’t find. 

2. Prepare as if someone’s life depends on it. The truth is inspections can have life and death consequences. Good inspectors never forget that. Review appropriate manuals, history of problems, and remember to bring all the tools you expect to need – mirrors, flashlights, etc. Interrupting an inspection to get a tool disrupts your concentration and can lead to errors in finding problems.

3. Turn it off and keep it off. That means cell phones, smart phones, and iPods. The best inspectors know that they need to focus exclusively on the task at hand. Aside from external distractions, clear your head of other distractions as well. Yes, it’s hard to put aside family matters or financial issues, but good inspectors know the importance of immersing themselves in the inspection before them.

4. Small matters. Even small imperfections – such as cracks – need to be noted. They may be within tolerances today, but fixing them today may be less expensive than when they grow. Or even if small cracks aren’t repaired, noting them allows them to be monitored.

5. Details, details, details. A good inspector not only finds problems but s/he records them in sufficient detail for the problem to be understood and acted upon. Again, I know it’s hard under the pressure of short-staffing to take the time to properly annotate findings, but there are inexpensive electronic aids today than can help record the problems and voice recognition software that can then type up the findings.

Hope these habits work for you.

John Goglia has 40 years of experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB board member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

John Goglia

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 [email protected].

John Goglia is an independent aviation safety consultant and Adjunct Professor at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology and regular monthly columnist for four aviation trade publications. He was an airline mechanic for more than 30 years. He has co-authored two text books (Safety Management Systems in Aviation, Ashgate Publishing 2009 and Implementation of Safety Management Systems in Aviation, Ashgate Publishing 2011).