Zac Noble (left) and A&P mechanic Dallas Marshall near the end of a Beechcraft Debonair engine reassembly.
Pressuring maintenance technicians to rush helps no one.
Feeling pressure to fly is a common topic of conversation in aviation safety circles. Flying an aircraft while maintaining the expected level of safety for all aboard is complex and should command our full attention.
There are many policies and industry best practices aimed at preventing external stressors from affecting pilots and crewmembers. These stresses are many and varied. They may include personal stressors from home or family; work stresses from co-workers, bosses, and customers; or flight conditions such as the current or forecast weather.
But what about the pressure on maintenance technicians? The number of aircraft in service today has outpaced the supply of maintenance technicians, resulting in fewer mechanics to service an ever-growing fleet. They perform both mandated maintenance and unexpected repairs, often in a rapidly changing environment. In many cases, the people they work for are concerned about the amount of time the aircraft will be out of service or the cost of the work to be performed.
Human factors are a direct cause of or a contributing factor to most aviation accidents, and we should not forget that this applies to maintenance technicians too. One simple way to prevent an A&P from feeling pressure is to give them the time and space to do their job.
I was recently asked to repair the engine of a Beech Debonair that had developed an internal gear problem. I accepted the task and assembled a capable team to assist me. This not only enabled me to get the job done faster but also provided redundant quality assurance.
One of my conditions to accept the job was that the airplane owner was welcome to stop by to get updates on the job, but he was not welcome to just hang around while the work was being performed. I didn’t want anyone on my team of A&P mechanics, including myself, to perceive pressure from him.
The owner agreed and kept his word. He stopped by a few times but didn’t become a stressor. The engine teardown, reassembly, installation, test runs, and test flights went flawlessly. The maintenance team and owner were very satisfied with the results.
The stressors on aviation maintenance technicians are many. Foremost is the very nature of the job: when we sign off on our work, we are declaring to the owner, the pilot, the FAA, and the world that we have done the job properly, down to the amount of torque on the individual nut or bolt. We are saying, “That aircraft is airworthy.”
And there are usually economic concerns as well. Helicopters are tools to do a job—and those jobs require the helicopter to be present for duty. When the helicopter is down for maintenance, it isn’t making money for the company. It’s no wonder that mechanics feel pressure, both internal and external, to get that aircraft back on the line.
Let’s all give maintenance crews the resources they need to meet your desires to have your aircraft back in service, as well as their obligations as maintenance professionals. Those resources should include the opportunity to do their job in peace, knowing that you respect their professional judgment about what needs to be done, how to do it, how long that will take, and how they will know when that helicopter is airworthy.
You will have better results for your repairs, mechanics who are happier and less stressed, and everyone can have confidence in the aircraft you operate.