Five Common Mistakes when Planning Your Aircraft Maintenance

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This article appeared in the July issue of AvBuyer magazine under the title Aircraft Maintenance? Common Mistakes to Avoid. You can find the published version here.

By Bill Reeves – Director of Maintenance Services for Elliott Aviation

For many aircraft operators, planning a maintenance event can be difficult. You often have to juggle calendar, cycle-based, and one-time events like engines, APU, airworthiness directives (ADs) and service bulletins. Warranty requirements or power-by-the-hour programs can further complicate your schedule. Combining your events will make sure your items are taken care of in one visit

Heading into the ADS-B mandate, many shops across the industry are seeing a heavy backlog of work. This can add to the complexity of scheduling and tracking your maintenance, as your preferred shop location may not have availability for several months. Taking these common mistakes into consideration when planning your next event can save you time and money.

5. Understanding Your Current and Future Maintenance Status

A full understanding of your aircraft’s current and future maintenance status can save an operator a lot of extra time and expense, including avoiding additional unnecessary downtime. A thorough logbook review is critical to not only understand what is overdue and what is due, but what is coming due.

For instance, if you are purchasing an aircraft and adding a large work scope like paint and interior, it may be in the shop for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. To minimize your downtime, it can help to look past your scheduled out date to see if anything else is coming due that you can take care of while your aircraft is already going to be down. This could also include inspections, engine overhauls, service bulletins and AD’s as well.

Some customers subscribe to maintenance tracking systems to help them schedule all of their due and upcoming maintenance items. Programs like CAMP and Traxxall can help an operator set up tracking information that will alert an operator to all items they need to consider when scheduling major or routine inspections.

4. Timeliness of Approvals

During a major inspection a maintenance facility can shorten your downtime by working discrepancies in conjunction with your inspections. For instance, if you provide them with discrepancy approvals as they are discovered rather than waiting until later in the process it will save you valuable days at the end of the event.

In addition to working discrepancies in parallel with your inspection, more manpower is typically available to devote to your aircraft during the initial inspection. Manpower can be allocated in advance of arrival to ensure a faster turn-around on work completed. It will also allow for parts to be ordered sooner, which further reduces overall aircraft downtime and cost.

3. Planning an Incoming Debrief

An incoming debrief is essential to save time and money on an inspection. This gives you the opportunity to run through every item face-to-face with the team that is going to be working on your airplane. Typically, during a debrief, your maintenance facility will help set mutually agreed upon expectations of communication throughout the project. This includes how they will communicate discrepancies for your approval.

In addition, incoming debriefs allow for thorough reviews with each department head or team lead directly with a customer. For instance, if a customer is experiencing weak pressurization, the mechanic working on the issue can help identify the problem directly by asking second and third level questions. Is the problem happening at higher altitudes, lower altitudes, in manual or auto mode, etc. This type of trouble shooting helps by providing an avenue to work the identified discrepancies in parallel with incoming runs and inspections and allows parts to be ordered much earlier in the process.

2. Communicating Throughout the Inspection

Open communication throughout the process will help keep your inspection moving. Make sure that your project manager fully understands your communication preferences so you can be alerted in a way that is most convenient for you. Even if you are unsure or would like to request additional information, accurate and efficient communication is in a customer’s best interest, as it helps move each maintenance event forward.

In our connected world, a project manager or team lead can send you high-quality photos or a short video of a discrepancy to help discuss your options. Your maintenance facility might also be able to source less-expensive parts, like non-OEM or aftermarket airframe or avionics parts.

In addition, several maintenance facilities have online and app-based systems that can provide you the most up-to-date status on your aircraft while it is in for an inspection. These programs can help share photos of discrepancies, give you faster access to the individuals that are working on your aircraft, help you electronically approve, deny or request more information on discrepancies, manage and understand your bill and more.

1. Fully Understanding a Shop’s In-House Capabilities

A maintenance facility will rarely have 100% capabilities and will often have items they have to outsource to other companies. Outsourcing any components of your event adds an additional level of uncertainty to your downtime. While a one-stop-shop may not be necessary for a minor maintenance event, a company that can help repair any additional items saves you having to reposition the airplane and put it down again for additional maintenance.

As many aircraft owners are rushing to meet the ADS-B deadline, take the time to review all other items that are due. Many operators are taking this opportunity to bundle their major inspections and other items like WiFi, paint, and interior.

Putting it All Together
In this environment, don’t wait until your inspection is due to try and book your next event. Shop demand is incredibly high and is typically booked several months in advance. Start your process early and fully understand all maintenance you would like to have completed to include items coming due in the next three to six months. This will prevent you from having to schedule additional downtime shortly after completing a major event and will alleviate the cost of repositioning your aircraft.