Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2016! Time for some Maintenance Goals (or Goaling as the new hip way of saying it is!)

Every year people go through this whole resolution or goaling thing when the New Year is upon us. I've decided to try and put together some Maintenance Goals that should be attainable for all of us aircraft mechanics.

I typically do not make any resolutions but I think this could be a fun exercise for the heck of it.

Goal #1

Stop worrying about delays while working on planes.

This is a tough one. The company will always push you to work quickly and to work in a way so as you take minimum delays. Delays are bad, they cost the industry millions of dollars every year. Delays are most likely to be caused by weather, crew scheduling or air traffic control, however maintenance delays are an issue too.

My contention is that a delay caused by a mechanic fixing a broken plane should not be lumped into all those other types of delays. We are talking about  safety of flight in most of the things that end up being maintenance delays so a departure time should be the furthest from your mind while you are trying to troubleshoot an issue.

My goal would be (and has been) that I will not rush, rush, rush to fix a plane. I will take my time and double check my work if necessary to ensure I have made no mistakes. I do not give estimates of "when I will be done" unless I'm pretty sure of what I'm doing. In essence NO PROMISES.

As an added "word to the wise", the company will rush you and try to get you to work quickly (understandable, they are in business to make money) BUT if by chance you mess up and the FAA has to get involved you will see just how fast the company will dump you and disavow any knowledge of how or why you did what you did. It is up to you as an A&P to check your own work and to be absolutely sure that when you sign off something it is done right.
Goal #2

Meet an "old school" mechanic and learn something from them.

I've had the honor to work with some of the "Old Timers" in our industry. I was employed at my job at the right time. The time when these guys were still eager to teach a new guy and when they could still say something like "hey jackass you are doing it wrong!" and not get into trouble.

I'd love to hear some stories from these guys1

These guys are a wealth of knowledge and should be idolized by the young A&P mechanic. I worked in the microfiche/get a bigger hammer era and the stories and wisdom will help you grow and amaze you.

Goal #3

Teach a new hire something.

The new guys are the future of the industry. Instead of complaining about how these new guys don't know anything or are too lazy to learn the right way lets show them the light!

They will always remember you for it and it makes your job easier if they do it right the first time.

Goal #4

Get your money straight (retirement)

Ok, it's great to fight for the next pay raise and to stick it to the company with a nice new fat contract. What has concerned me for a while now is how little our A&P brothers and sisters think about their retirement.

Let me tell you a story; Not too long ago I was one of those people. I figured that I would likely work into my 60's and or 70's and retire. It's a common thing for A&P mechanics to work that long, retire and within 2 or 3 years they die.

It is very important to think about how you want to live when you do retire, when you want to retire, and what you wish to do when you do retire. I am of the opinion that the earlier you can retire the better. We work in a highly toxic field. The shorter the exposure you can have to these chemicals, etc the better.

My wife came to me about three years ago with concerns about  our lifestyle after we do retire. We have since been investing in commercial real estate and enjoying making money while sitting at home watching TV!

What I'm saying is that 401ks are great but remember that about half of your 401k money is going to be taken by the government as taxes when the time comes. The trick to retirement in my opinion is to diversify. Keep your 401k, add some alternative investments, add some commercial real estate to "recession proof" your investments and start planning for your golden years.

Keep in mind that the S&P 500 ended the year down -0.75% (as a total yearlong average). Since I got myself diversified I made an average of 6-7% on my investments!

If any of you out there wish to learn more about commercial real estate investing check out www.waypointpropertygroup.com and learn more about it.

Goal #5

Be safe.

We have chosen a pretty dangerous career. Running engines, flying rivets, sharp metal, poison gasses, oil, fuel, grease, you get the idea.

You want to be able to go back to your family at the end of the day so watch your back!

It's up to us to be vigilant with our own safety.

Happy New Year and let me know what your maintenance goals for the year might be.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Day The Hits Just Kept on Coming!

It started off as a normal day: Oil calls, tray table latches, some minor avionics issues. Then, suddenly the tide started to change:

We got a call to look at a First Officer R2 window. The pilot was complaining that the window was "hazed". The mechanic decided to change the window which is only a 10 min job. The trouble started when the "H-Number" on the window which was removed did not match the H-Number of the window being installed.

Typical 737 Flt Deck windows (swa corp security safe pic)

This is a normal situation and as some of you know when these number do not match we have to change the wire position on a terminal block behind the window heat controllers which are located in the E/E Bay (in the belly of the beast).

This job used to be a simple annoyance: remove the window heat controller(s) so you can see the terminal strip, remove the wire and place it onto the correctly number terminal. Of course that is how you would do it on a 737-300 or "Classic" model airplane.

window heat controller (got this pic off ebay-scary) (swa corp security safe pic)

Boeing in its infinite wisdom decided to relocate this terminal strip on the 737-700 or Next-Gen aircraft. This strip is now located behind the forward wall on the forward cargo compartment. Keep in mind that in this instance we are working on a "live flight". This plane has passengers who are trying to get places. When the plane has passengers it will also have luggage. Where do we keep the luggage?-Forward cargo compartment.

So the mechanic had to troubleshoot to a point where he decided to change the window, make sure we had a window in stock, get the window in, and change the "taps" to the correct terminal spot. What do you think happened while he was troubleshooting and changing the window?

Terminal block similar to the one I'm talking about (swa corp security safe pic)

You guessed it, the rampers loaded the luggage into the forward cargo pit. So now he has to explain to the rampers that he needs the bags removed so he can access the wall, take the wall down, and do what he needs to do. Usually this is not a problem but lets face it the rampers are not too keen on unloading the bags they just loaded and it takes time.

So now we are on delay. In about 10-15 mins the mechanic has created a luggage hole or cave big enough to get to the wall.

The wall is now off but just to make sure you really want to accomplish this task Boeing decided to hide this terminal strip behind an angled structural piece which holds said wall up. To reach it you do it blind, once you can establish you are one the correct terminal strip.

These are the things that drive mechanics crazy. New plane-it should be designed in a way to help us do our jobs easier.

That's not the end of that story either. Once done and about 40 mins into a delay there was a problem with the new window (paperwork type problem) which almost required the mechanic to put the old window back in place doing this whole dance over again! In the end the paperwork question was cleared up but only after another hour was wasted by calling Engineering and all the important people in Dallas.

The next hit to us was self inflicted (by flight crew). The entry door got stuck on the jet bridge extendable canopy. Happens all the time. The OPS people usually will call MX and we can easily unstick it. This time the Captain did not want to call us, he told the OPS person to just move the jet bridge back.

L-1 Door (swa corp security safe pic)

The jet bridge moved back and the hinge and guide arm on the door got all bent up. I've changed guide arms and usually it can be done in about an hour but that hinge (hinge plate actually) is another story. We grounded the plane and I and another Mechanic worked on it for the rest of the shift. It turns out that to replace these hinge plates the door has to be removed from the plane! Last time I removed a door form an airliner was way back in my Delta Airlines days.

We get off shift at 10pm and as a cherry on top of our great day two planes struck winglet to winglet right around 9:30pm. The airplane gods were not happy that day! The only silver lining was that none of the "Damage Events" (sounds like a movie on SciFi Channel) were caused by maintenance.

Winglet (swa corp security safe pic)

Monday, July 27, 2015

License Friendly Work

While working on airplanes we often have the opportunity (and the privilege) to work on complex machines using our trouble shooting smarts. This is very satisfying and all us A&P mechanics should take pride in having this ability.

There are also times when we do what we at SWA call "license friendly work". Examples of this could be:

Window wash

Demo mask
Seat belt extensions, etc.

Lots of guys get sent to a window wash call and they start huffing and puffing about "why can't the flight crew do it" and things like that. Back in the day the flight crews at SWA used to take pride in the fact that they would often wash their own windows. Sounds crazy but it's true! -BUT-that was back in the day.

Now a days with the FAA being the way they are none of the flight crews are willing to wash their own windows (can't blame them). So what option does the crew have but to call us to do it.

Back to some of my fellow mechanics. A few guys hate to wash windows but to me, it's license friendly work. Let's just say it's very hard to get into trouble while washing windows.

I look forward to wiring issues and hydraulic leaks and troubleshooting but towards the end of the week I love me some window washes!

While washing the windshields the flight crews will often open the slider and apologize for calling me out to wash the windows. I always ask them "Do you know how much money they pay me to wash these windows?"
Some weeks all I feel like doing is washing windows!
Hard to get in trouble.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

CSI Aircraft Maintenance (Cue Theme Music!)

As an aircraft mechanic we encounter a lot of mysteries. Sometimes the mysteries are as simple as:

Why won't this light come on?

Where is this fluid coming from?

What kind of fluid is this?

Much like that TV show CSI we are trained to dissect the problem in order to solve it. It's one of the things that I think really makes the job enjoyable. When you can figure out what is wrong with a component it's very satisfying. Follow the clues and figure it out.

Most problems are not this obvious!

For this reason it is important to hone your skills by learning to read wiring diagrams, prints and such. Also, even though it is a huge pain in the ass, you will need to get your Run and Taxi license as well as your CAT ticket. These things help us to correctly troubleshoot!

Not as hard to read as it would seem.

Sometimes (and this is the dark side of it) the CSI reveals that some of your coworkers are lets say- working harder at trying to find an excuse to NOT fix something then it would take to simply fix it.

I'll give you an example. When I arrived at work in the morning one of the planes was broken. The fellow who was working on it is not one of the sharpest tools in the shed. You know the type, always troubleshoots down to the part which is "not in stock."He miraculously cannot get to the hard MEL because he is still "working his check."

Long story short we decided to start the troubleshooting process over from the beginning due to this guys rep. Sure enough within an hour we figured out that this guy lied about what was going on and all we had to do was change "the big part" to fix the issue. Another hour and we had the plane back in service.

So what do you do when you find out a fellow mechanic simply lied to get out of doing work? What can you do? If your leaders (management) already knows about the guy (and they do) there is little you can do. Complain? Sure. But nothing official. Just kind of keep it in the memory bank and watch your work when that guy is involved.

There are other times when we do the unexpected (at least to non-mechanics) to solve the mystery. A pilot will call us about a leak and we show up, first thing we do is touch it and rub it between our fingers, smell it, and sometimes to the horror of the pilot you taste it. He or she is in horror but I'll wager that an aircraft mechanic is one of few people who can tell the difference between oil and hydraulic fluid by taste! Admit it once you have tasted hydraulic fluid you can never forget the taste.

There are other times when your CSIing will figure out that the flight crew input some incorrect info into their FMC! Those are great times almost as satisfying as finding the CB popped while the crew is struggling to figure out why some system won't work.

So...keep sharp, never stop learning, be honest and hone those taste buds!!

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's all in the name

We aircraft mechanics change a lot of parts during the day. Some big parts and some small parts. We get accustomed to certain nomenclature of these parts. A circuit breaker usually looks like a circuit breaker. A latch usually looks like a latch. A fastener usually looks like something that will hold two or more things together.

Circuit Breaker

There are times, however, when the manual calls out for us to change a part and that part looks nothing like what it really (at least in your own opinion) look like. Perhaps the most widely known example of this trickery I can think of is the "Black Box". We all know that the black box is actually orange, but imagine how confusing this would be to a person outside of the aviation field.

The orange "Black Box"

Often when I change any part of the avionics on our planes I bring the box up to the jetway to do the paperwork. Most of the avionics boxes are black and so when the passengers amble down the jetway to board I usually get one or two remarks about why I'm changing the "Black Box". I even hear parents telling their kids in hushed tones how "that part records all the airplane info". I usually don't correct the passengers unless they address me directly.

This nomenclature issue came up the other day at work. I had a call about the fire warning system not testing properly. When I got up to the plane the captain says that the fire warning system does not test when it's on the DC bus.

This is the first call of my day so after I clear the fog from my brain and take the plane off the ground power bus (onto the DC bus) sure enough the "Master Caution" light did not illuminate when I did the fire warning test. Naturally I'm thinking why would the fire warning test not turn on the Master Caution? Lets BITE check the fire warning box (no help), maybe change the fire control module to see if that helps.

At this point I make myself slow down because changing that fire control box is a big deal. The check out (test) for that control box is about an hour long. Before I do that I call for a wiring diagram for the fire warning DC system. When the wiring diagram comes I start to think I'm going down the wrong route with the problem. Sure enough after some more checks I realized we had a Master Caution problem not a fire warning problem. After I get some more prints for the correct system we narrow the problem down to the Master Caution Dimming Module. Now here is where the real problem starts.

A "Module" to a Line Mechanic is a box that contains wires/lights/relays and all the other little magic electrons that make an airplane do what it is supposed to. A "Module" is a squareish metal thingy that has a cannon plug connected to it.

The wiring diagram says the Master Caution Dimming Relay lives behind the P6-3 panel. Now me and another two guys, lets call them MoneyMaker and DaDude, take turns looking for this module. behind this panel are lots of wires, relays, modules and miles of wires. Each is labelled with a small white sticker that announces its equipment list number. We spent the better part of an hour looking for this module to no avail.

Back behind the panel is also a little door which when opened is hiding a circuit card. All three of us opened that door and saw this circuit card and all three of us were like "well, that's not a module, it's a card".

Long story short one of the guys in the shop must have called Boeing or The Answer Man or someone because a little past an hour later DaDude comes back to the plane and says "So and so says it looks like a circuit card". MoneyMaker and I look at each other and say "No F-ing way!!".

That "module" is a circuit card hidden behind a small door. And to make matters worse the thing is correctly marked, but to see the marking you have to stick your head into the P6-3 panel crane it around and then and only then would you see the Module Number sticker.

So any of you engineers out there:
Why not call that "module" a "card"?
Why not give that little door it's own panel number?
Why not put a little sticker on the damn little door that says "hey, the M(###) lives in here!

Turns out we didn't have the circuit board in stock anyway and once it came in it did fix the problem but the real issue here is the word "module".

Now that I have expanded my work vocabulary to make sure a circuit board can be called a module and likely vice-versa, I'm not really looking forward to the so called 737-MAX and all it's new vocabulary!

Monday, April 13, 2015

And now...the end is near!

I have had a great career. True I was laid off and went through two down cycles in the airline industries. I have lost a house and spent a few sleepless nights worrying about how to make it until the next pay check. But, in the grand scheme of things it has been a very successful and profitable career for me.

I was at work the other day and one of my co-workers came in. He said that something interesting happened to him on the way to work. He left his house at 3am and needed some coffee so stopped by the local AM/PM convenience store.

He gets his brew and the guy behind the counter asks him if he is an airline mechanic. Not too big of a leap since my buddy was wearing a SWA Mechanic jacket. He tells the guy yeah and the guy starts asking about the job.

My buddy realizes this guy knows what hes talking about simply by the questions he was asking so he asked the guy what his background was. It turns out he retired from World Airways as a mechanic. "No way" my buddy says. The guy lifts up his shirt to display his World Airways belt buckle!

The airlines used to offer us employees really great pensions. These pensions slowly but surely started to disappear in the 80's and now not one American airline offers it's mechanics a pension plan. As most American companies the pension plans of old have been supplanted by the 401k plan.

The 401k was never designed to be a retirement savings plan but it is what most companies offer and so it is what most mechanics depend on for their retirement savings. There are a few drawbacks to the 401k that are alarming. The most troublesome to me is that it pretty much follows the stock market. Also it is often difficult to switch your investments within the 401k and most plans limit the choices you will have to invest in.

All this has come to my attention because as a person who wants to retire early in life I started doing some studying. Did you know that 75% of working Americans have less than $10.00 saved for retirement? Scary huh?

Long story short what I've learned is that to really enjoy your retirement you must diversify your savings. 401ks are good but you have to have some investments outside of them to really see your retirement savings take off.

Airlines are great, and being a mechanic is a source of pride for me. I've heard too many stories of old airline mechanics working way past the age of 70 and never retiring. Old airline mechanics retiring and having to work at WalMart to supplement their retirement income. Old airline mechanics retiring and passing away within a year or so  because they worked too hard for too long and their bodies are all used up.

The way for me is going to be retiring early rather than later with enough income from my investments to allow me to continue living in the lifestyle I'm accustomed to.

We are all living longer these days. Males tend to live into their 80s these days and that number is going up and up. Will you 401k be able to support you for 20 years after you retire? How about 30 years? Start thinking about it now so I don't have to hear any more stories an old mechanic working at the local AM/PM convenience store after 30 years at World Airways.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


There I was......that's how a lot of maintenance stories begin. "There I was, hydraulic fluid all over me, there I was, laying in a 2" deep puddle of rain, there I was, saving the day as usual."

The majority of days in our business are not that exciting. We muddle through the day putting oil in engines, fixing reading lights, adjusting the PA volume, checking tire pressure, any of hundreds of little things that comprise the industry.

One of the things that I'm sure the public does not realize is the amount of cooperation there is between airlines (at least in the maintenance departments). This is a brotherhood really and one that would grind the airlines to a halt if it did not exist.

Here is how it usually goes: Plane comes in and sure enough we need a new part. As usual the part you need is the one that you do not stock. Maintenance control will call around to maintenance departments around our area to see if they have the part. If they do and they are willing we can "borrow" the part from them. The borrowed part is used on a per hour or per cycle basis and is inspected and tested once returned.

That takes care of the big parts but what is really cool is how most airlines cooperate with the small parts. The innumerable bolts, nuts, washers, glue, sealant, grease, oil, tape, etc. Most often when a guy shows up at the shop from XYZ Airline and says he needs a bolt of such and such size with the correct washer we will simply let them have it. This may sound like a small thing to write about but I'll give an example of a couple of times where it saved me.

I was up in Seattle with a guy I'll call Mountain Man. We were there looking for short in a wire. The trouble was that this wire ran through the connection between the wing and the fuselage. After we got it all straightened out we realized that we needed a particular type of clamp for high temp areas. We called maintenance control and they suggested we head over to Alaska Airlines to see if they had one. A truck ride later and a quick visit to the Alaska Airline Maintenance hangar and the guy in the engine shop tossed one to us. We were able to install and get the plane ready for the next day. I should mention that it was around 2 or 3 am when this all went down. If we did not get the hook up from Alaska we would have had to wait until a clamp was flown up to us from Oakland sometime around 10 am the next morning.

Adel Clamp

The next example happened just the other day. We had a plane grounded that needed a CIT sensor replaced on the #1 engine. I was kind of excited because I could not recall ever changing one of those even though they do go bad every now and then requiring R&R. As it turned out when whoever took the old sensor out one of the threaded inserts in the engine case came out along with it's mounting bolt. I've never had one of those inserts fail like that and I'm pretty sure the guys I was with had never seen it either. Since that is a very unusual thing to replace we at SWA did not stock it in Oakland. The guys thought we were stuck until the foreman headed across the ramp to Alaska Airlines Maintenance and sure enough they were able to provide us with one so we could get that plane back in service.

Stupid little threaded inserts.

This cooperation occurs mainly on graveyard shift when a guy or gal from another airline's maintenance department will stop by to borrow a torque wrench, or hardware or whatever. While working graves I have had to drive to SFO and borrow parts from United Airlines plenty of times.

It's pretty cool that mechanics are like this (for the most part) any where you go. An airline mechanic will be more interested in getting that plane back in the air than worry about you being from the competition. There is no ego tripping or even thoughts of denying help. A write up is a write up, a plane is a plane, parts are parts.

This industry is surprisingly very small. We run into people we have worked with at other companies time and time again. What if you refuse to help a mechanic one night and years later he or she is doing the hiring at the next place you try to work?