With a bit of planning and persistence, a proactive preventative maintenance plan can help keep bad – and often very expensive to repair – things from happening to good airplanes.
FAR Part 1, Section 1.1, defines preventive maintenance as “… simple or minor preservation operations and the replacement of small standard parts not involving complex assembly operations.”
What the heck are “small standard parts” and “complex assembly operations” anyway? Ah, leave it to the FAA to make something so basic seem so complicated. In layman’s terms now: preventative maintenance is all the simple day-to-day things you do to inspect, clean and monitor your aircraft’s overall condition in between its normally scheduled inspection intervals.
And while they may be simple, they are extremely important to ensuring the ongoing performance, safety and value of your business jet. And, of course, the older said aircraft gets, the more important increased attention these simple steps become.
“Aircraft have so many things going against them – all forms of corrosion, undocumented maintenance, pressure and temperature extremes, wear and tear – and all of it increases with age,” explained Tim Landis, president, Integrity Aero Service. “And so much of these damaging affects can be minimized or even prevented with targeted preventative maintenance including increased inspections and early connective actions.”
“We all think, ‘if it isn’t broken why fix it?’ – while not realizing the costs associated with delaying or foregoing preventative maintenance altogether,” he said. “Unexpected breakdowns and issues will happen, but preventative maintenance and inspections can and will minimize costly downtime and added labor costs when these events do happen.”
Getting proactive with preventative maintenance.
While the maintenance guidelines set forth by the aircraft’s manufacturer give wonderful instructions for ‘regular’ maintenance, a good preventative maintenance program needs to be custom tailored to the individual aircraft.
“When you say ‘preventative maintenance,’ it means something particular with the FAA in terms of the FARs,” stated Michael Vercio, vice president, Product Support, Textron Aviation. “It’s pretty much considered by the FAA as ‘owner maintenance.’ As outlined in Advisory Circular 43-12A, there is a defined list of tasks that owner/operators are allowed to do.”
“As you know there are things that happen to airplanes as you use them: runway debris, hangar rash, wear and tear – things that fall outside of regularly scheduled maintenance guidelines,” Steve Taylor, manager, Maintenance Engineering, Textron Aviation added. “That’s where the owner/operator need to be in tune with their aircraft and able to spot these changes.”
“A good time to look for these abnormalities is during the pre- and post-flight inspections. Look closely for damage, paint discoloration, signs of corrosion, loosening rivets and nuts, things like that,” he said. “It’s just a good practice to look at the airplane with an eye for potential problems, especially as the aircraft ages.”
“Owner/operators and maintainers also used to do a lot of these type of inspections when they washed their aircraft, but with environmental restrictions that’s getting harder to do on a consistent basis,” Taylor said. “But even washing an aircraft has to be done correctly. We actually have special procedures for cleaning and washing the various parts of the interior and exterior of our aircraft, including steps that cover lubrication requirements after washing and the reapplication of corrosion inhibiting compounds when needed.”
Vercio explained that Textron Aviation now includes instructions for preventative or as they call it ‘discretionary maintenance’ in the maintenance manuals for all new aircraft as part of the Corrosion Prevention and Control Program (CPCP).
“Older aircraft did not originally have that in their manuals, but Textron has gone back and added it to all the maintenance manuals, specifically because we want owner/operators to understand the importance of these processes and to take the best care of their airplanes,” he said. “It’s especially important for those operators who are new to aircraft ownership. They may be the aircraft’s second or third owner and they need to understand the importance of programs like this.”
“We have a dedicated team that is able to help all of our owners put together a CPCP program that fits their type of operation,” Taylor said. “The help and guidance is free for owners of Textron Aviation aircraft and it’s important for our customers to know that kind of guidance is available to them.”
Vercio again stressed the value of the increasing role preventative maintenance plays in maximizing the operational life of aging aircraft and the importance of being aware of the particular areas that need attention in each aircraft model.
“We have a department that is staffed by experts on every Textron Aviation model to answer these types of questions from our customers,” he said. “We encourage owners and DOMs to call in and ask for particulars on how to inspect and maintain their particular model of aircraft.”
“It’s incredibly important for owner/operators and DOMs to understand the vast amount of resources an information that is available to them,” Taylor said. “We have webinars every quarter and host customer conferences around the world. Both formats are great resources for customers who take part in them. These are sessions covering every model of aircraft we deliver and a lot of information comes from other operators what they see and find. It’s an invaluable resource for everyone.”
Engines need love too.
While the increasing value of a preventative maintenance program is pretty clear for an airframe, that’s not always the case for other parts of the aircraft, especially for older turbojet and turbofan engines.
“What makes the difference, especially in an older airplane is you have to understand the condition of the engine and how that changes as it ages naturally,” explained Bjorn Stickling, manager, Diagnostics, Prognostics and Engine Health Management for Pratt & Whitney, Canada. “Every engine is operated differently and it’s critical to know its history so you can understand how that engine is performing compared to others in the fleet.”
Stickling said that having documented information on an engine’s operational history is a key piece to really understanding what is happening inside the engine, which is critical information when operators petition for TBO extensions.
“With a good operational and health history, Pratt and Whitney, Canada is able to make an accurate assessment as to how this engine is doing compared to what is expected from an engine that age that is operated in the same way, so starting a health and usage monitoring program early is very valuable,” he said. “That is one of the reasons that we have invested so heavily in making technology available that can be cost-effectively retrofitted onto older engines.”
“We are in the engine data acquisition and prognostics business because it lets us tailor solutions to match the value of the aircraft and deliver a service for that particular powerplant and installation,” Stickling said. “One example is our FAST (Flight, Acquisition, Storage and Transmission) solution. FAST delivers situational awareness about an engine’s health, usage and trends. We are using it to move customers toward a fully preventative maintenance environment, including on-condition programs and reduced operating costs because of greater availability, and in some cases, reduced rates for our pay-per-hour maintenance programs.”
Stickling explained that the FAST technology is easy to retrofit and is fully configurable, so it can easily connect to the aircraft and recorder data even on older, ‘non-digital’ aircraft models.
“FAST can be easily configured to different avionics and engine control units,” he said. “In cases where the aircraft is highly analog, without built-in sensors and (data) recording equipment, FAST comes with an analog-to-digital converter, creating a cost-effective solution that overcomes the complexity of having to develop and install digital recording and sensing systems.”
“With FAST, customers can get their detailed digital health and usage information from the gas path and other sensors to create an accurate record over time on the engine’s operational history and condition,” Stickling stated. “When the time comes to request a TBO extension, we now have the true history and consistent data available to make our decision quickly and get the operator the most time on wing possible.”
While retrofitting FAST is certainly an option for many operators, Pratt & Whitney, Canada recently introduced a program that can quickly benefit every engine operator. Introduced at EBACE 2017, its new Oil Analysis Technology is touted as the “next-generation on-wing monitoring solution for preventative maintenance.”
As Stickling explained it, the Technology delivers greater sensitivity to be able to more accurately identify the actual type of metal alloy fragments found in the oil.
“Working with our experience, we know the critical components inside the engine and what alloys they are made from,” he said. “Through analysis, we can tailor the risk management of the oil system as it progresses over time. We believe this technology has the potential to far exceed the efficiency of existing oil-debris monitoring methods and provide a variety of benefits.”
Simplifying your preventative maintenance program
While following the routine maintenance steps outlined in your aircraft’s maintenance manual is pretty straightforward, creating a customized preventative maintenance program can be rather time consuming. Why? Well, it has to be tailored to the particular needs of an individual aircraft.
But, before you dismiss this as being too much additional work, like most things in our digitally-focused world there’s an ‘app’ for that.
“In the past when an owner/operator would have a fault or an issue they would have to record these instances on an on-routine maintenance form including what the issue was, how it was corrected and when it needs inspection again,” explained Greg Heine, chief operating officer, FlightDocs. “The problem is, it’s very difficult for a technician to research past maintenance events. You really have no functional insight into the aircraft’s history with a paper-based system.”
“With a solution like ours, what we provide is an iPad application that allows pilots and maintainers anywhere to be able to access these types of records no matter where they are,” he said. “They can also do a detailed write up on any new issues and even attach photos or digital video to the file. They now have the complete scheduled and non-scheduled maintenance history of that aircraft available when they need it.”
“The operator can easily access historical data to find information, assess these maintenance events and determine if the OEM designated schedule should be altered for increased safety of aircraft performance,” he said. “Having those alterations electronically in a system like FlightDocs provides the technicians with the tools that will automatically alert them of these changes.”
Heine also said that FlightDocs will also has a ‘Due List’ tool that shows you a list of what tasks are coming do for each aircraft and when they need to be completed.
“If an aircraft is away from its base for a length of time, the pilots will know what tasks need completed and can work with local mechanics to take care of them wherever they are,” he said. “And because it is all electronic, you never lose track of any of the compliance documentation.”
“Additionally, because it is web-based, any maintenance that is preformed at any location can be instantaneously shared with the aircraft’s regular technicians back at its home base,” Heine said. “It’s almost error proof. With several layers of validation, it prevents inaccurate data from entering the system depending on the type of service or inspection being performed.”
The best laid plans…
No matter how you look at it, whether it’s in the interior, on the exterior or in the engine, aging aircraft benefit from more frequent care and attention. But, one element that will make event the best preventative maintenance plan even better is consistency.
“One of the biggest mistakes owner, operators and technicians routinely make is showing a lack of consistency and follow-up from the initial implementation of any program,” Landis said. “Once everyone has performed the preventative maintenance program as part of a routine, the enthusiasm for the task wanes.”
“The thought is, ‘Everything is going well, the aircraft is defect free, so why are we wasting our time greasing hinges and inspecting rivets when we haven’t found any defects?’” he said. “Basically, it all falls back to the human factors side of defining these new requirements as integral parts of the preventative maintenance program.”
In aircraft maintenance, like in most things in life, it’s the sum of all the “little things” we do that combine to make a meaningful difference.