Maintenance. Mention maintenance and helicopter in the same sentence and you get another “M” word - more money. Well okay, make that two “M” words. However, complying with your maintenance requirements doesn’t have to mean writing a blank check and hoping for the best. By incorporating some simple yet effective guidelines you can reduce your costs, minimize aircraft down time, and avoid some common headaches associated with this side of the business.
No matter how well you manage your operation, one day you will need maintenance. Whether as simple as a light bulb replacement, or as complex as a 4 year/5000 hour airframe inspection, you can count on the aircraft being out of service for a specified length of time. Some operators believe these maintenance requirements are the sole responsibility of – and only affect – their Maintenance Department or third-party provider. But, in reality these requirements affect the entire organization. Once an aircraft is in for maintenance, these effects travel downhill from the customer to the owner/managers, then expand to the pilots, parts runners, helpers, and even fuel handlers.
Don’t think so? Who’s calling every ten minutes when an aircraft is not returned to service at the anointed hour - or even sooner? Who’s walking around the aircraft like a coiled spring waiting to jump in and save the day, or who is hanging around the hangar doors with a cleaning bucket or a fuel truck? An essential key in managing an efficient aircraft maintenance program is to include these other individuals in a proactive, yet transparent manner that supports the maintenance process.
Typically, mechanics do not want or need assistance with the aircraft maintenance. As a matter of fact, certain unsolicited “assistance” by non-maintenance personnel can be very disruptive to the maintenance process. The types of support I’m referring to involve activities outside the actual performance of the maintenance tasks. A simple way to demonstrate this proactive support is to break it down into three categories: Pre-Maintenance, Actual Maintenance, and Post Maintenance.”
Pre-Maintenance. It is in this category that the entire organization can make its biggest and most visible impact on the maintenance process. Just because your job only deals with flying, washing, parts handling, dispatching, or managing doesn’t mean you can’t make a positive difference. And it’s easier than you think:
· The fuel handler that notices a slight intermittent leak at an aircraft sump valve and reports it could prevent an unscheduled maintenance trip to correct a leaking sump valve at some remote location.
· The parts person who interacts with the mechanics to ensure that the necessary spares are available for the upcoming scheduled maintenance will assist in keeping work stoppages to a minimum.
· The pilot who notes a discrepancy and takes the time to make additional observations will enable the mechanic to troubleshoot the issue more effectively.
· The dispatcher who maintains an active dialogue with the maintenance provider will schedule aircraft in a manner that supports a productive flow for the maintenance process.
· And let’s not forget the helper who aids in corrosion control by regularly removing the salt residue and grime from the aircraft surfaces.
Owners and managers can participate in this category by monitoring aircraft usage for its potential impact on maintenance operations. For example, an aircraft on a contract that is continuously loaded heavy requiring max torque on every take off, or an aircraft that is flown in excess of 150 hours a month will endure an accelerated amount of wear and tear. These extreme operations can add significant costs and burdens to your normal maintenance process. Proactive measures can include discussions with the customer on ways to modify their operational requirements, or a premium rate adjustment on operations above a pre-selected gross weight or total monthly flight hour limit. If an operational change or additional revenue is not an option, you could identify these specific aircraft and develop a separate maintenance process to comply with their distinctive requirements.
The main goal of this category is to reduce the number of discrepancies encountered during the next category.
Actual Maintenance. The actual maintenance process is usually straightforward and governed by established rules and regulations. While this category primarily applies to operators with in-house maintenance departments, other operators can utilize these same guidelines during audits of third-party maintenance providers. But hands down, this is where owners and managers can have their greatest influence over the maintenance process. Successful proactive support in this category is directly related to the level and type of equipment, training, and documentation provided to the maintenance personnel.
Imagine a shop that averages two or more Bell 206 aircraft in maintenance where only one set of maintenance manuals are available; or where the lead mechanic is the only individual to attend factory school instead of all mechanics. Or how efficient would a shop be if it lacked sufficient spare hardware, adequate overhead lighting, or have a useful crane available to comply with the assigned maintenance tasks.
Excuse me…but doesn’t that mean spending more money? Yes, equipment and training cost money. However, by selectively spending additional dollars, you can actually reduce your overall costs. For example, what price would you put on a factory school or a second set of manuals if it permitted your aircraft to consistently complete maintenance one or two days earlier, or if it generated 20 additional aircraft revenue days per year? Case in point, why does a Bell 206L-3 engine change take 12 hours at a major 135 operator, but three to five days at other shops? Aside from several minor factors, most major operators ensure all mechanics have the necessary training, tools, equipment, and documentation. Why? Simple. Flying aircraft earn revenue and AOG aircraft don’t.
Granted, every operation is different. But, if the actual maintenance process were monitored and reviewed on a regular basis, you could make some wise investments and streamline this important aspect of your operation.
Post Maintenance. This final category is where the results of your previous proactive efforts and investments are brought together and reviewed for efficiency and improvement. In other words, are you getting your bang for your buck? The opportune time for this review is right after the completion of major maintenance or an inspection cycle. Based on the problems and discrepancies noted during the maintenance process, you can implement changes to existing procedures, or create new methods to mitigate and prevent conditions affecting the success of your maintenance program. Here are a few examples of areas to review:
· Did the maintenance program identify and correct aircraft problem areas?
· What were the top five discrepancies, and how do they compare to the fleet?
· Were there any delays in the maintenance process?
· What is the overall condition of the aircraft?
· How does the effectiveness of your maintenance process compare to similar companies?
After several reviews, patterns should become evident that can be used to track the overall maintenance program or each individual aircraft. But remember, when reviewing this data it is paramount that each issue be fully examined to include all known and underlying causes. For example, if an investment in mechanic training does not appear to increase efficiency, you may think that the training was a waste of money. However, further investigation might reveal that the switch to a bargain cleaning agent used by helpers is now causing an increase in airframe corrosion, thus requiring the additional aircraft downtime to correct.
By no means should your proactive support end here. After applying these recommendations to your operation, you should start the support process all over again.
Designed by fate, a maintenance operation is not a revenue producer. And despite the fact that some issues cannot be dealt with effectively, all issues, no matter how small, have a cumulative effect on the maintenance program. With an efficient proactive approach, you can bring your maintenance process more in line with the rest of the operation, noticeably increase your aircraft availability, and set you on a path to the best three “M” words - make more money.