Improving Worker Access to Aircraft

Dec. 14, 2006
As the work environment changes, so do the ways maintenance workers access aircraft when they're working above ground level.

With the wide diversity of aircraft in use today, many Fixed Base Operators are changing from model special aircraft hangars to general use hangars and are increasingly moving their inspection and some maintenance out-of-doors. As the work environment changes, so do the ways maintenance workers access aircraft when they're working above ground level.

Common sense regarding the need to protect workers along with OSHA regulations and insurance requirements has necessitated changes in the way workers are protected from falling. OSHA regulations require that workers be protected from falls when they are working at heights greater than six feet. Fall protection can be provided by guardrails, safety nets, and/or a personal fall protection system.

The use of aerial work platforms in aircraft maintenance is limited by the difficulty in providing worker access to all parts of a plane's exterior while being protected from falls. In the past, sections of the wings, stabilizers, and fuselage crown were impossible to reach from the basket of an aerial work platform. Jet Blast ratings are also sometimes required when aerial work platforms are working around terminals.

This access challenge has been answered by JLG Industries, Inc. with the introduction of their new Fall Arrest Platform designed especially for aircraft inspection and maintenance. The JLG® Fall Arrest Platform allows workers to move outside the basket to access the plane's exterior while still having fall protection in compliance with OSHA requirements. The new Fall Arrest Platform system provides a way to tether workers to the boom's basket without restricting their movement within a radius of six feet.

When aircraft structured hangars were used, cables could be hung from the ceiling above certain areas of the plane, and workers could use them to attach a lanyard for those occasions when they had to leave the basket. It was and is a reasonably satisfactory solution when working inside the hangars, but not feasible when maintenance is required outside. As a substitute, a rolling gantry with cables attached to it has been used. It's bulky and time consuming since the gantry must be moved from plane to plane for it to be in position.

Another attempt at meeting fall protection requirements used a customized platform, dubbed the "playpen", on a standard aerial work platform. It had expandable railings that extended outward to create a large area around a conventionally sized boom and really didn't provide a total system of fall protection. When the guardrails extend over a convex area, there could be a gap between the bottom rail and the aircraft's surface that a worker could slide through since there wasn't a floor under the expanding railings.

A newer concept for providing lanyard anchorage is suction cups. The cups are designed to be attached to a flat, smooth surface, and then have the lanyard attached. The difficulty with the concept is that aircraft have very few smooth surfaces where work is being done, and what surfaces there are, have rivets in them that can prevent a vacuum from being created and holding the cup. There is also no way of determining if the suction cup is holding with sufficient adhesion to provide proper fall protection.

Scissor lifts offer the advantage of a large surface area for workers to move around and have platform capacities up to 1,000 pounds in electric drive models and up to 2,500 pounds in heavy duty, rough terrain models. But, other than a slide-out platform extension, scissor lifts are limited to vertical reach. They're fine for working on wing mounted engines or landing gear but aren't satisfactory for the tops of wings and other areas requiring extended reach.

Telescoping and articulated boom lifts do have an extended, all-around reach capability and can be maneuvered to most areas of an aircraft's exterior. Industry and regulatory standards require workers to stay within the platform, which makes it difficult to reach areas around the platform when it is extended over a wing.

All of the limitations of the above mentioned systems have been eliminated with the introduction of JLG's Fall Arrest Platform System. The upper railing of the specially built platform has a stainless steel wire rope secured at six points along three sides. On entering the platform, a worker attaches the lanyard from his or her body harness onto the moveable transfastner device. The unique feature of the transfastner is its ability to move across the wire rope attachment points without interruption allowing the worker to remain attached at all times.

When maintenance personnel have elevated the boom to the working position, they can leave the platform and work up to six feet away from it while being protected by the personal fall arrest system. And, the transfastner lets them move the full 270 degrees around the platform without stopping to change the lanyard anchor every time they reach a wire rope attachment point. Along with complying with OSHA 1926.502 fall protection regulation, the Fall Arrest Platform System also meets CAL/OSHA article 6, appendix C specification.

JLG offers the Fall Arrest Platform System on most of the diesel and dual fueled powered telescopic and articulated boom lifts. These boom lifts range in heights from 40 ft. up to 150 ft. There are additional aviation specific options designed to work with the Fall Arrest Platform System that add to creating an efficient, effective and safer work environment. Most notable is JLG's Soft Touch System that reduces the chance of accidental contact resulting in property damage. The Soft Touch option features a suspended padded rail, which surrounds the lower part of the platform and is connected to proximity sensors. If the suspended rail comes into contact with the aircraft, the operator is alerted and all machine functions are de-activated. The platform rails are also wrapped in padding to provide additional protection Halogen work lights mounted on the basket, a tool tray in the basket and cold weather start kits are among a few of the many options available.

Along with the new Fall Arrest Platform System JLG has introduced the 740AJ Fall Arrest articulating boom lift. JLG redesigned an existing articulating boom to meet other aircraft maintenance requirements. Added counterweight and puncture-proof foam filled tires were added so the 740AJ meets industry jet blast standards of 80 mph steady winds and 90 mph gusts. Four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering add to the machine's maneuverability.

The platform can be extended vertically to 74 feet and horizontally to 51 feet, 10 inches, so it is capable of reaching every point on the tail, wings and fuselage of most aircrafts manufactured today. A useful option that adds to the 740AJ's utility is an on-board air compressor with air lines running inside the boom to the platform. The compressor permits pneumatic powered hand tools such as rivet guns and wrenches to be operated without using a separated compressor and eliminates air lines hanging down from the platform. There is also an 110V outlet in the platform for electric powered tools. Both the compressor and electric outlet are powered by an on-board generator.

With the new Fall Arrest Platform System and the 740AJ, the jobs associated with aircraft inspection and maintenance and airport maintenance can become more efficient and effective.