A DM inspects and evaluates aircraft structures, power plants, systems, and individual parts to determine airworthiness. They are final authority in the determination of the airworthiness of aircraft and their associated components. This is a very high-pressure role, fraught with regulatory concerns and a need for an attention to detail. A DM also manages staff, schedules, budgets and develops ways to integrate evolving technologies with legacy aircraft.
Human Factors in Safety
At the center of any safety program is the director themselves. And the human element is the most crucial part of making the program work. To achieve this, a DM’s role is to unify commitment from individual workers and stakeholders at the corporate end of the operation.
Unification of values regarding safety can be an ongoing internal campaign, as the DM constantly engages with stakeholders who have different needs in order to carry out their own roles. For the technician or mechanic, fatigue reduction or personal safety may be at the top of their list, however at the corporate end, efficiency and turnaround time maybe their biggest concern.
Human cooperation at all levels is key to every DM at any size aircraft maintenance facility.
It’s no secret that a shortage of skilled aviation maintenance technicians and mechanics have put pressure on MROs and their turnaround obligations over the last few years. And for a Director of Maintenance, achieving time-based targets is much more difficult with fewer hands on deck. While there are many millennials moving through accredited educational systems, it’s still not enough for today’s increasing demands for air travel.
And when the hangar is understaffed, the DM may be put under pressure to have workers do longer shifts, which is a serious threat to aircraft safety.
Keeping Up with Diversity
An MRO who maintains for a major client may be commissioned to work across many different types of aircraft. In civil aviation, for example, airlines are filling market gaps in more niche places; their fleet may range from a Boeing 787 for long haul down to a twin-prop Saab for short-hop regional services. And then there’s the entirely different set of complexities in the world of rotary aircraft.
To stay relevant and a legitimate prospect in the eyes of operators and MROs need to have a diverse background in servicing all types of aircraft. And when these aircraft experience manufacturer upgrades, it is the DM’s challenge to keep on top of it and formally relay this information to technical staff.
When the formal training is done, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a graduate is ready to work on complex projects straight away.
Like any vocation, real-world, hands-on experience is just as valuable as classroom-acquired knowledge. The DM is responsible for making sure that the team incorporates teaching the graduate in everyday tasks.
And DM themselves is responsible for training staff to have safety at the center of their productivity, whether it is for materials handling or best practices for working at height on maintenance platforms and the like.
Training – Furthermore
The digital age is influencing aircraft design and manufacture, as well as expanding the suite of skills a technician needs. For veteran staff—and possibly the DM themselves—this means a retrospective learning curve to keep up with technological advances, from flight systems to customer experience features such as on-board WiFi, entertainment systems, seats with pneumatic air systems and HVAC systems.
Back to Safety
With safety being the core denominator for efficiency, a DM needs to make sure that the workplace is setup to protect workers. It is extremely common for aircraft technicians to have to work at height. And while this isn’t to the extent that is seen in construction, for example, technicians are always working around stabilizers, tailfins, engines and in wheel wells. Combined with a concrete or asphalt ground, falls from this height can mean serious injury or death.
In addition to personal and physical setbacks, the MRO will likely experience costly downtime due to accidents during maintenance. With this, on goes the pressure again to the DM to both look for fill-in labour and keep their clients’ demands for turnaround time adhered to.
To alleviate this, the equipment used to access the aircraft should be assessed for wear and suitability to the task at hand on a regular basis – again, the DM oversees this, and is also responsible for making sure that equipment used is compliant to their relevant code.
FAA – Working WITH Them
Add to a DM’s internal responsibilities the regulatory obligations of the FAA, and you have a recipe for a very high-pressure work environment. In short, if something goes wrong in flight, it goes back to the DM.
In an article from Keystone Aviation, maintenance director Bill Hoddenbach outlines his relationship with the FAA:
“Working with the FAA can be challenging, especially if you don’t try to understand their point of view and have a cooperative attitude. We all have a part in the aviation industry and we need to be able to work with everyone to help the aircraft owners have a good experience and want to keep their aircraft and use them. The FAA is part of that equation. They have mandates that they have to accomplish and we as an industry need to be aware of those.”
Releasing the Pressure
Effective overseeing of the hangar, ramp or flightline setup is the foundation for safety and efficiency. The DM should identify all equipment used and storage methods that present dangers to their workers, whether they are at height, or those that present tripping hazards on the ground.
Today, many MROs are enabling this strategy with customized work platforms and work are management equipment that suits every aircraft they work on.
Instead of using generic ladders—one of the biggest causes of workplace accidents around the world—MROs commission steps and platforms that are especially-designed to get the worker as close to the aircraft without having anything touch the aircraft’s surface. And many aircraft have horizontal surfaces upon which nobody can stand – along movable components like ailerons and flaps, for example. Customized aircraft stands, aircraft maintenance platforms and aviation GSE allows workers to work over these surfaces, closely enough to carry out the task, without standing on slippery, curved or movable surfaces. And if a DM can find versatile equipment that accommodates this type of access and saves hangar space at the same time, it is considered a cost-saving bonus.
And some big operators are demanding this as a compulsory part of their safety strategy, like United Airlines, the USAF, Qantas. These operators are commissioning hangar safety company SafeSmart Aviation to create solutions as part of each new aircraft acquisition, or when safety reviews identify better ways to make the area safer.
This type of equipment can help Directors of Maintenance with budgeting, knowing that maintenance time will be shorter, as well as with presenting their MRO company as one with suitable equipment informed by an understanding of their clients’ aircraft.