Monday, April 26, 2010

One Of Those Days

As an aircraft mechanic we all know that it is coming. The it can be several different things. For some guys the it is having to work with a certain mechanic or foreman. For others the it maybe a road trip, still others may have their it in the form of a check plane with an MEL on it. The list goes on and on. For me that it changes from time to time and situation to situation.

Also as a profesional aircraft mechanic I realize that the it is going to come and I like to think that I am mature enough to accept it when it happens. We all know guys who whine about the work that they get assigned and know how frustrating it is to deal with those guys. As a person who has moonlighted in the foreman slot I know all too well that dealing with those people is not a pleasant experience. That said we as profesional mechanics have to realize that guys have good days and bad days, and some of us are not good at leaving all that home stuff at home. I personally try not to complain about the hand that is dealt me (although I know that I have before) and I can understand that if a guy has to change an HMU one night he may complain if he comes in on OT and gets assigned another HMU.

Unlike other jobs where if things are not going well we often cannot simply put something down or aside and work on another thing. There is not going to be any closing of the spreadsheet or going down the hall to visit a co-worker. Our job is a results based job and like it or not a time based one as well. So my main it, the thing that drives me the most crazy is working on a plane all day and leaving it broke, having made very little headway. So here is what happened:

Day shift, about 10am I head out to a gate call for Leading Edge Slats not retracting upon landing. As I roll up on the plane, sure enough the slats are out. When I talk to the crew they are in a good mood (which always helps) they inform me that this is a repeat write-up from yesterday and sure enough the leading edge B system pressure hydraulic fuse was replaced for the same problem just the night before. I tell the OPS guy not to board and go check out this fuse. I'm looking around, as you guys know there are a few hyd fuses in the wheel well and I have no idea which does what. Up on the ceiling there is one fuse that is clean (this is an old work dog 300) so I figure thats the one. The lead calls MX Control and gets no help from them really so I checked the Auto-Slat box on her advice to make sure the problem was not in that system, no joy.

As I start up the jetway the Captain stops me to ask if the plane is good to go-"nope". As I get into the jetway the FO asks me if the plane is good to go-"nope". As I turn into the cockpit the Flight Attendants ask me if the plane is good to go-"nope". As I leave the cockpit the OPS Sup asks me if the plane is good to go and thats when I had had enough and asked them all if they thought I would keep the status of the plane a secret from them. I mean why not let me work and get back to them when I was ready? I know, I know-thats a subject for another post.

Turns out I had the right fuse so I back off the B nut drain the one side of the thing, back off the B nut on the other side and get a face full of Hyd fluid. Luckily just moments before the Lead asked me why I was not wearing safety glasses so I threw them on. The glasses deflected the majority of the fluid but could not stop the stuff dripping off my forehead and right into my eye. I got a good bit in mouth as well and as it turned out that was only the first time of many that day in which the taste of hyd fluid would be in my mouth.

Once the fuse was reattached the slats worked fine except (you knew that was coming) one end of the fuse now had a leak. I tried to tighten the B nut but it did not help, I took it off again and cleaned the B nut out but that did not help so we ordered a new fuse. Well as it is a fuse does not typically shut unless there is a leak so I put everything back together, hung my bucket on the dripping line and we ran the Flaps/Slats a bunch of times to find the leak. Not too long into this I found #2 Slat actuator leaking. Cool, I'm thinking, at least now I'm getting some where. The Lead checks it out and of course we have neither the Actuator or the Fuse! Since the actuator had to come out I started to take off all the panels and such to gain access. Anyone who has done this before knows that there are about two hundred screws, four or five access panels a bunch of bolts and a few nuts to deal with. After that it was wit til 4pm for the parts.

Fast forward to 4pm I grabbed the fuse and installed it first. I figured it was the quickest. Another couple of drops of hyd fluid in the mouth/hair/eyes and it was time for a leak check. Guess what? That SOB was still leaking! I took off the line that the fuse connected to and the flair was cracked! Now I need a line! I can't use a temp line because this line snakes in between the Aileron mixer, two cables, and two rods. When I called AOG they told me that the line was NIS (Not In Stock) system wide and that they would have to call Boeing! Well now it's about 5 or 5:30. It's Saturday we only had four guys on shift and Terminators were in range so I had to stop and help with that. Actually I was not even supposed to be working that plane since we only had four guys covering the line but the guys were cool and let me break off here and there to work it.

When I left the plane to a guy working RON I had accomplished zero. As a matter of fact we were worse off than when we started since we needed a line that nobody had! Before I gave up completely I did put the old line back in, and hung my bucket from it again so the RON guy could change and leak check the #2 actuator. Kind of sucks but hey he was on OT.....

Friday, April 23, 2010

Week End Crews

So we have had this on going joke about weekend pilots. I have worked here for a while now and it always seems that when I am working the weekend the calls we get from the crews are, how should I say it, INFANTILE. I'm not sure if it is just the imaginaion of the mechanics but when we get calls about things like nose shimmy or flap lever hard to pull up, they are almost always on the weekend.

I am positive that the junior crews are working on the weekend and holidays. My wife will tell me that it's just my imagination but I'm not so sure. All the "icing" issues that I have run into involve junior crews and they all were on weekends.

There is no question that the current group of pilots won't put up with as much stuff as the older guys. The older guys seemed to know the plane a lot more and although we would never think of it now a days the older crews used to carry an issuse or two in order to get the planes out on time.

Maybe the fact is that I'm getting older and as I do I notice that some of the complaints we get in maint. sre just that-complaints. If that is the case it's not going to get better any time soon. We are often just having to hold the pilots hands and let them know that it will all be ok. "Yeah Capt'n, I checked it out and it seems like that _______ is OK". How many times have you heard yourself saying that?

A good part of our job is in reassurance for the flight crews but now a days it seems like the crews are afraid to fly or is it that they are trying to throw their perceived Captain seniority around. I hate to break it to them but your 50,000 employee number amounts to nothing much.

Keep em flying-Push that tin!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Take That Extra Step (It's Harder To Do Than It Sounds)

Well I'm back from vacation. Back to work time. Time to push tin, it's what we do.

I had the opportunity to go on a road trip to Boise to fix a 300 with one of the other Oakland mechs, let's call him TwoTurns. So we get to Boise and it's raining and cold. The ONLY plane there besides the one we flew in was an old work horse of a -300. Before we left Oakland we got the low down on the issue with the plane. The number two engine "START VALVE OPEN" light came on after engine start and remained on. So with us we brought: Rain gear, rain boots, tools, a start valve, an N2 indicator, starter, a korry light, a bunch of other stuff that was already in the downline box. I also brought my MagLite, and an extra bag of open end wrenches where I keep my trusty Ford Wrench.

We let OPS know we were there and went over to the plane. Once up in the flight deck we turned the plane on and what do ya know? The number two "START VALVE OPEN" light is on. TwoTurns checks the log book and we hit our first snag of the trip. Not only is the start valve written up but on the next log page the crew wrote up "Over weight langing at 155k". Great! we had no idea that the plane actually took off and landed again, heavy. We called Oakland and got the Foreman to look up the Over Weight Inspection for us so that we could concentrate on the start valve issue.

I suggested to TwoTurns that we start up the APU, put the bleed air on and see if the engine starts to spin. I figured that if the valve was really open, once the bleed air was turned on the engine would spin up. The APU comes up we turn on the bleed and nothing happens, but the "START VALVE OPEN" light remains on. We motor the engine to see if the light would go out but that did nothing. TwoTurns goes down and manually opens the valve but that did not help either. When he took the canon plug off the valve the "START VALVE OPEN" light went out! TwoTurns put the canon plug back on and the light remained extinguished. Cool, looks like the valve was messed up or at least we knew we could change the valve and that would most likely fix the problem.

I went downstairs to the engine and told TwoTurns that I was going to get the valve and my tools so that we could get this pig back in the air and making money. When I got back TwoTurns says one of the things that no mechanic wants to hear-"we have bigger problems than the valve". Second snag of the trip! While aiting for me TwoTurns took the extra step to look at the wire bundle which fed the canon plug for the start valve and he found that the N2 Alternator wires had chaffed against the start valve wires causing the indication in the cockpit. There were seven wires in the bundle and five of them would have to be repaired. The question came up about splicing wires under the fan cowl and what type of splice to use if we could do it. A quick call to MX Control confirmed that the wires could be spliced with environmental splices but then a Planning Item would have to placed on the engine to have the engine wiring harness replaced within 500 flight hours.

The third snag.TwoTurns searched his line bag, I searched my line bag, we both searched the downline box that goes on all road trips-no environmental splices anywhere. We figured that someone on the field must have them so we asked OPS and they had the number to Horizon Air MX. After describing what I needed they said they would drive it over for us. After a short wait the Horizon Air guys brought us the correct splices and sleeves and told us to keep the extras! (thats how we roll in the Line Maint. world, one company generally is willing to help the other!) With the wires spliced we ran the engine to make sure all was good, did the paper work and closed her up. Of coure being SWA they were boarding the plane while this was going on but hey it worked so I figured that if the pax wanted to wait while I was sure that my paper work was correct than they would just have to wait.

The main thing is that if TwoTurns had not taken the extra step of checking those wires, we would have changed the valve, which may have had the false effect of working for us while potentially failing on the next revenue flight! Taking that extra step is not the haredest thing to do and I think that most mechanics know that it should be done. The problem is that outside pressure (OPS, Mx Control, Foremen) often creates the byproduct of skipping that extra step. Once we find something that we believe has fixed our problem, we go with it and often times omit that extra step. As with any real skill, troubleshooting takes time to develope into an artform. If we practise taking that extra step, looking over our paperwork, ignoring those outside pressures (OPS, Mx Control, Foremen, etc) we become better mechanics and that should be the main goal in our professional lives.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reader Submitted pics!!

The glory days!!

Thanks Skywalker for the pics!
Hey guys. I've written a new blog but I'm having technical difficulties with the upload. Stand by. Thx Goat

Friday, April 9, 2010

What's It Gonna Take?

I may be opening up a can of worms here but my wife and I were talking about this today and I was wondering what all you guys thought of this. We had a conversation about what it is going to take to fix the airline industry. We all know that the airlines are not really a great places to work and some of us remember when the airlines were a great place to work. I started my airline career with a carrier that had an 80 year track record of never laying people off and still got the axe. I think that I started my airline career right at the time when the pluses of working for airlines started to decline. I love my job and really can't see doing anything else but working for one of these once great companies is not what it used to be.

I know that the price of oil has decemated the slim profit margins that the airlines rely on. I also know that next to oil, personel is the next highest cost. The first thing that an airline in trouble seeks out now a days is concessions from the work groups. The problem is that over the years the airline employees have given back so much that, come contract time, the company can tout a smalll pay increase even though in reallity you are just getting back what you gave up and most times just a percent of what you gave up.

The cost of living has out paced all airline jobs. Making 60-70k a year sounds great but just is not what it used to be 10-15 years ago. When I see people like Geologists with 1-2 years experience and a BS degree making 107,000 bucks a year and I have to struggle to make ends meet while working to keep a 110 million dollar plane up in the sky, it seems un fair to me. My wife is a furloughed pilot and the pilot group is fairing no better. I know they make more money than we do but not the kind of money they made 15 years ago while of course working more hours.

The only thing that I can think of to fix the situation is to increase fairs. The fair structure at the airlines has been the same for the last 20 years. It pretty much costs the same to fly from Oakland to Denver today as it did in 1990, it may even be cheaper! I think that if the cost of a Big-Mac can go up in 20 years than the price of an airline ticket should go up also. That's not to say we should double or triple our fairs but a modest increase of $5-10 is not too much to ask for.

The big rumor in the pilot world is that airlines are looking into hiring pilots from overseas to fly domestic routes because they can get them cheaper. I do not think it's too much of a leap to see airline shutting down and outsourcing their maintenance departments as a whole. Remember what Alaska Airline did to the hangar in Oakland or how Northwest Airlines treated their mechanics a few years ago? If something does not change we are in a slow death spiral of and industry and there is no way out.