Visit us in Booth 20 in Amsterdam June 4-5! Click for details.

What Is Predictable Aircraft Maintenance Planning?

Proper upkeep of an aircraft fleet is critical to keeping planes in the air as long as possible, maximizing the utility of your assets and the potential of earnings. And, as with all business processes, proper aircraft maintenance planning denotes the difference between a frictionless operation and a decentralized tangle of confusion and errors that directly impacts the bottom line. But what is predictable maintenance planning? What should a fleet maintenance manager do and what should they avoid? Here are the high points of both poor and predictable fleet maintenance habits.

Poor Aircraft Maintenance Planning Habits:

Using a spreadsheet.

Airline fleets may contain anywhere from a handful to a squadron of planes. Therefore, the more aircraft maintenance to be scheduled, the more decentralized the process gets. It’s tempting to use a spreadsheet to schedule fleet maintenance, but this approach has pitfalls, mainly in terms of efficiency. If only one manager is in charge of keeping the spreadsheet, manual entry of maintenance dates, services performed, personnel assigned and other notes can prove time-consuming. (Some managers have been known to spend as much as four hours making maintenance entries in Excel.) Furthermore, maintenance schedules will almost certainly change due to last-minute, unforeseen events. Changes will cascade through the schedule, and unless the manager is glued to his workstation, they may not be accurately recorded, confusing department reports.

Fatigued maintenance staff.

A paper published by the FAA cites fatigued airline maintenance technicians (AMTs) as one important reason for maintenance disruption and errors. The paper states:
“The onset of fatigue results in error-making and accidents in a wide variety of occupational pursuits. Unlike the pilots and air traffic controllers, there are few regulations to govern the working environments of aviation maintenance personnel or which address fatigue issues in this segment of the aviation industry. Therefore, understanding the conditions that predispose a worker toward maintenance errors/accidents could pay big dividends in safety, profitability and employee satisfaction. With competition continually increasing, the advantage of helping employees do their best by optimizing their environment is in the best interest of the company, the flying public, and the aviation maintenance professional.”

Distracting working conditions.

The same paper by the FAA details working conditions not conducive to allowing AMTs to do their best work. Excessive noise, higher room temperatures, confined quarters and poorly ventilated hangars can result in staff fatigue and consequent human error. Research quoted in the paper indicates:
“Aircraft maintenance errors have been reported as a contributing factor in 15% of major aircraft accidents from 1982 to 1991, at a cost of over 1,400 lives. Maintenance errors also contribute considerably to operational costs. Rankin, et al. states that 50% of flight delays due to engine problems are maintenance error related and cost the airlines $10,000 per hour. At least 20-30% of in-flight error shutdowns are similarly related at a cost of $500,000 per shutdown, and 50% of flight cancellations due to engine problems are caused by maintenance errors at a cost of $50,000 per cancellation. In addition, on-the-job injuries in one airline during 1994 alone resulted in 785 reported injuries at a cost of $1.2 million, a figure that excludes costs of lost productivity and other related issues.”

Substandard tools.

Another sign of poor maintenance planning is improper tool upkeep. When an AMT’s tools are not in calibration as they should be, maintenance errors and equipment failure can occur. According to Shadowfoam.com, “All tools and equipment that are required to be controlled in terms of servicing or calibration under being necessary to measure specified dimensions and torque figures etc should be identified and listed in a control register including any personal tools and equipment that the organization agrees can be used. Inspection, service, or calibration regularly should be following the equipment manufacturers’ instructions except where the organization can show by historical calibration and/or service results that a different period is appropriate in a particular case.”
When fundamental best practices are incorporated into maintenance planning, fleet management becomes simpler, streamlined and structured. Technology can go a very long way toward predictable aircraft maintenance planning. Here are a few examples of how high tech can lower barriers to good planning.

Aircraft Maintenance Planning Best Practices:

Clear, centralized communication.

All businesses grapple with the challenges of giving and taking clear direction. But in an age when everyone has a mobile device, this is easily remedied. In addition to direct messaging, many excellent brands of project-management software can assign tasks and exchange messages on job status. These same platforms exist in mobile versions so AMTs don’t need workstations; they can carry their schedules in their pockets for easy access and quick response.

Employing the right metrics.

According to Metalphoto of Cincinnati, “An important measure of effectiveness in any aircraft maintenance operation is the number of injuries. Studying long term injuries, such as back injuries and other injuries that require hospitalization, can often give insights into potential underlying issues that may be contributing to risk.
“Injuries can mean lost time and delays for the aircraft operation. The capability of your safety management system (SMS) and its ability to organize and present data is also an important consideration. Having access to sufficient data regarding maintenance activities can allow you to review factors such as time of injury, job task, type of vehicle or aircraft, checklist or procedure used, and other important contextual details. Using this information, it is possible to select useful metrics to track for your aircraft maintenance activities and focus on those most likely to help identify and resolve underlying issues as they occur.”

Timely inspections.

While every aircraft has its own particular maintenance needs, keeping the entire fleet on an 100-operating-hours inspection schedule, or at least an annual inspection, keeps your assets in peak condition. The advantage of the more frequent 100-hour inspections is that the checkups will take less time, as fewer maintenance services are likely. At each inspection, always note the age of the aircraft, as your AMTs may determine that service can no longer extend the life of the plane, and it may need to be retired. Given all these variables that can affect maintenance, savvy managers have learned to harness technology to centralize all the inspection data and schedule inspections and services.

Careful recordkeeping.

Noting all the inspection dates, ATMs and services performed can prove daunting for large fleets. Fortunately, shortcuts have been introduced to speed up the recordkeeping drudgery. Using barcodes and ID labels on components and scanning them into an automated system can save valuable time updating service logs.

Using automation software.

Scheduling predictable aircraft maintenance becomes a snap when managers and AMTs employ automated scheduling software. Not only can the program store regular maintenance schedules and issue alerts when aircraft are ready for upkeep, they can store AMT notes, part numbers, and track which tasks are in progress or completed. One software program can even update changes to schedules automatically should unforeseen changes occur, adjusting the calendar in seconds so the planes in most urgent need of maintenance can be serviced first. Automation not only prioritizes the aircraft for upkeep, it helps keep the fleet in the air as long as possible, increasing traffic and maximizing earnings. When this best practice becomes a habit for the AMTs, you have attained predictable aircraft maintenance – and your supervisors will notice this in the quarterly reports.
As global markets round the corner on the pandemic, airline traffic is sure to come roaring back to life, returning to volumes unseen in more than a year. During this current period of lowered activity, you as a fleet maintenance manager have a once-in-a-century chance to upgrade your aircraft maintenance scheduling and become the leanest, most productive airline in your market. You can announce to your C suite that you were proactive in this relatively dormant time to make the necessary investments that made your maintenance planning predictable, maximizing your ROI.
Automation is the key to getting more planes in the air and keeping them there longer. And Ames software from Omega automates maintenance scheduling as no other program can, with unique features and benefits that competitors don’t offer. No airline likes surprises, and Ames software covers more “What if” scenarios and last-minute changes in scheduling to retain fleet flexibility and extend fleet service life. Click here to learn more about Ames, the only fleet maintenance scheduling solution that can help you predict the future.