Inspecting Gadgets

By now you are wondering what the HELL is going on with the airlines and all these FAA inspections, grounding of hundreds of airplanes, thousands of cancelled flights, and scary media reports.

There is an old saying in the industry “The FAA is a pack of idiots”.  At times it seems true, but they are always the FAA and that much will never change.

Here is a brief and simplified explanation of the whole inspection thing.

Each critical aircraft component will have an inspection, overhaul, and/or replacement interval. This interval might be a certain number of landings, days, months, engine hours, engine cycles, years, or even something else that I don’t remember at the moment.

The inspection, overhaul, or replacement interval is decided largely by experience. Engineers at the aircraft maker with FAA agreement provide a schedule of maintenance and inspection for each new airplane when it is certificated.

 As a new aircraft type is used by the airlines any problems that come up are managed by changes to the maintenance program. Like about everything else in aviation this varies from one airline to another. Service difficulties with an airplane are reported to the FAA.  In response, depending on the severity and urgency of the problem the FAA will issue a directive to all operators of the same aircraft type.

This might be an informational service bulletin along the lines of “Hey, we just thought you might want to know that some other guys noticed that if you put too many potato peels down the disposal it seems to clog the sink”.

A little more urgent thing would be an Airworthines Directive, or A.D. Note. These are usually no big deal but can be extensive and expensive enough to scrap an entire fleet of airplanes. A typical A.D. Note might require a replacement or inspection of a dingus within a certain number of days, landings, months or so on.

The home version of this might be “Please get a new lock for the front door This Weekend,  while you’re at it get one for the back door too”.

Some A.D. Notes are recurring and some have conditional intervals. This just means that the interval will change depending on what the last inspection revealed. This ads an order of magnitude to the complexity of record keeping.  “Please take out the trash every Tuesday and Friday, unless you change the cat litter box, then take it out right away. But if nobody has been home all week and the trash is still empty you don’t have to take it out, except if there is cat litter in it. If somebody else changes the cat box you still have to take out the trash. Or, you can just look in the bag and see if it is full. Then give it a sniff and if it isn’t nasty don’t worry about it till tomorrow.

Some A.D.s have three or more different compliance intervals depending on any number of things like the results of the last inspection, the method of the inspection, or the method of repairing the problem in the first place.

Something really important and urgent will require compliance right away. These are called Emergency Airworthiness Directives and are always a big deal. “Check to make sure the wings are still bolted on before you try to fly again”. Now.

When this is multiplied by thousands of airplanes you can see that the record keeping task is challenging. You would need a computer or something just to keep track of it all.

Since we can be fairly sure that the airlines all have at least one computer and an I.T. person somebody can understand then why oh why are there so many compliance problems?  And why all at the same time?

This brings us back to why the FAA is often referred to as a pack of idiots when they are for the most part dedicated Federal Employees doing a difficult job fairly well.

The rules are written by and for attourneys. “To all persons using or causing to be used the kitchen sink. Not limited to the sink in the kitchen provided that such sink is used for purposes outlined in Subpart D excepting that said sink is equipped with garbage disposal appliance or accessory. Foreign materials defined under Subpart E category Peels of Potato Origin have been shown to cause clogging as reported by operators of similiar certificated type. Persuant to these subparts and provided herein previous directives regarding not reaching in the appliance while under power remain in effect”.

And then there are P O L I T I C I A N S

It doesn’t take much political Harumph to get a lot of attention when you are simply promoting aviation safety. Who doesn’t like safety? How can more safety be a bad thing?

The diversion of resources to hurredly re-inspect something that would in all likelyhood be just fine forever if it was never repaired seems scary. I think it might be important to ask “What were all those mechanics doing before the FAA Blue Ribbon Team showed up and started kicking tables over?”

In short, like I promised, the airlines do a good job of fixing things before they break. These is no profit incentive in not taking care of your equipment. Huge fines seem a little silly when the industry is going rapidly out of business.

Please expect more of this election year nonsense as the agency examines the remaining airlines. While they last.

Happy Landings.

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4 Responses to “Inspecting Gadgets”

  1. TheFlyingMan Says:

    Are you going to blog about the Delta-Northwest merger?

    I’d like to read what you think about it.

  2. Wow. I’m trying to imagine the database structure needed to manage that level of complexity, and my brain hurts. This just reinforces my belief, as a non-airline-industry person, that it is truly astonishing that airlines and airports can operate near anything that resembles safe and efficient. There are so many gazillion details to manage, it seems mind-boggling. I suppose that’s what delegating is for, eh? 🙂

  3. I too am interested to hear your take on the Delta-Northwest merger

  4. luckyjet1 Says:

    A merger talk post is coming soon.

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