Monday, July 1, 2013

When the tools are missing!

If you do any sort of maintenance work, not just working on airplanes, but any thing really you will come upon a time that you realize some of your tools are missing. I'm not sure how things work in other industries but at the airlines we buy and own our own tools. The larger or calibrated tools are supplied by the company but everything else we must buy on our own. Because of this when a tool is lost it is a big deal to us. I'm sure some of you are thinking "great there are planes flying around with "lost" tools stuck in them." While I cannot say that no tool has ever been left in a plane I can say that there are steps that are taken to ensure that this does not happen too often.

When I worked at Delta Airlines in the overhaul hangar some of the older guys would say that they did not lose a tool but rather that someone else thought they could take better care of it.Or that someone else did not like the way I was treating the tool so they took it.

When I first heard this I assumed they were just being funny about a not-so-funny situation. Now, after all these years I have come to realize what those guys meant.

Let me explain:
In our business we have our own tools, as I already explained. Most of the jobs we do only require one mechanic and so there is no trouble. The issue comes when one, two or even three mechanics are working on a job together. Since we purchase our own tools we pretty much all use the same brands of tools: Snap-On, MAC tools, or Craftsman stuff.
Anyone who has done one of the bigger jobs where at least two mechanics are working can tell you that at some point you are passing tools back and forth without first saying "hey make sure you give that back" or something like that. There are times when the tools are all over the place! Here where I work we do our maintenance outside not in a nice clean hangar and often in the rain. Once a tool, especially a smaller tool like a socket hits the wet asphalt it can literally disappear!
Add the weather, the multiple mechanics and the time pressure and you can see why tools disappear.

HMU change

After the work is done comes the quick cleanup and then most times an engine run or taxi check or even a taxi over to the high power run up area. The fix is checked and then OPS wants the plane taxied over to the terminal, paperwork (which now takes almost as long as the actual work) is done and the crew is briefed. The whole time you are thinking about getting the plane back on line so that the passengers can get to where they are going.

Days later you reach into your tool bag, looking for that 5/16 wobble socket and of course it's gone. You think back to the last time you remember using it and sure you remember using it but for what? who was working with you? what was the actual day? Then you simply plan to head to the store and get another.

Sure there are times when you ask around and the tool shows up but more often than not it's gone. There are other times when you reach into your tool bag and pull out a 3/8 open end wrench that looks similar to your but it's not quite the same...

This is where the tools go. It's almost always the smaller tools, they are the easiest to overlook, especially in the heat of the battle.

"Someone else thought they could take better care of it than I did".-makes sense now.

Not my stuff but you get the idea.

Recently I realized that my 1/4,5/16, and 3/8 wobbles are gone. I have had them for a long time and as most of you know they are not cheap! I'm sure someone has them but who? The 3" extension is also gone so it must be with them, at least they won't be lonely!

At one time I would get upset about all this but looking back I know that it's all part of the industry, at least when you work the Line.

I know some of you will say that all of a persons tools should be marked, etched with a name or employee number. If you still believe that then you are new to the industry or being a little naive.

There are some guys who never seem to lose any tools, they are also the ones who never seem to get dirty, makes you wonder how they do it!?!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Each One, Teach One

As many of you readers are already in the aviation field you as well aware of the fact that most people who are in the business do not suggest that others enter into it. This is an unfortunate side effect of aviation, to get to where you want to be takes a loooong time and as a result by the time we get to our position of choice we have a tad bit of ill will toward the industry.

Another safe pic!

The majority of us have been laid-off or "downsized" at least once in our careers and it's natural that we don't want others to go through all the adversity that we did. When people ask me about getting into aviation maintenance I like to tell them that it is a great job, but, all the stuff that you have to put up with on the way to the ultimate position is not worth it to most people.

The few of us who hold on and accept the struggle are rewarded with jobs that we love. It may be that the process is the ultimate weeding out system there is. I remember when my wife was just starting her airline career and flew for a commuter airline. They got no pay during training, had to pay for their own hotel during training and as a reward once they were done with training they made about $800/month! I was sending food out to her and about two other pilots just so they could have something to eat. One of the guys I work with has worked at 14 different airlines! That's crazy!

Recently I was asked by a local A&P trade school to participate in their Aviation Open House. Sure I would be representing SWA MX and my boss would be there also, but could I really encourage people to enter into this slug fest of an industry? I thought about it for a while and decided to do it. I think that since this Open House is for young kids around the community and is primarily to foster an interest in aviation as a whole it could be worthwhile. Lets face it we all know that it is easier to work with a person who has a genuine love of aviation than some guy who just in it for the money.

Where it all started for me

Kids should be exposed to all facets of life and why not being a greaser for the airlines? Maybe one of those kids will grow up to be an industry leader and can reflect on the day way back when they met some guy by the name of Goat told them that he really loved his job. I think about some of the people I have worked with that truly hate their jobs. I f someone had told them at the very beginning the truth about aviation maybe it would have saved them 20-35 years of misery and making others miserable. Wish me luck, once the truth comes out SWA might not be asked back next year!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Certain Planes.....Certain Planes!!

There are times in this industry when it seems that certain airplanes are out to get ya. They come back for the same issue, time and time again. Recently I worked a plane with an EGT issue. The older 737-300s have EGT systems that are very reliable but when a small part of that system goes bad it will throw the whole thing into a spiraling mess.

Nice SAFE pic of one of our planes.

A plane came in with a gauge going blank. A quick check of the history showed that the gauge had already been replaced (twice) as well as the other common culprit (a cannon plug in the engine core). Long story short I left that night and the plane was still broken. Fast forward to the next morning and I'm assigned that plane again. The guys at night meggered the wires ( a time consuming job) and found no faults. The boss was on the line with Boeing and they were busy trying to find a particular grounding post to verify it's security. Before they could get back with us the guy I was working with, let's call him Mr. Baseball, had found the post and together we verified the security of the set up. We ran the plane and all was well so we did our paperwork and let her free.

That plane didn't leave until later in the day and when it was brought to the gate the other EGT gauge was blanking out! We got that one sorted out and away she went, after another gate call about a circuit breaker.

Don't ya miss the old simple days

A week late I got a call for a seat belt or something small and finished it up, headed back to the shop. As soon as I sit down the crew calls back for something else. I fix that and head out again. I almost make it to the shop when they call me back for a third time about a leak or something like that. This time it hits me it's that same plane I spent two days with a week ago!

To cap it all off about four days later I was working some graveyard overtime. I was doing the usual talking and gossiping for the first half hour when I decided I had better check what I was working on for the night. I'm sure by now you have figured out that I was assigned that same plane! Wow. All I can say is that particular plane is soon to be retired so the stalking will soon end.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Outsourcing Debate

Although I have not heard anything about this recently I guess the pending merger of American Airlines and US Air has brought this debate back up. Most major airlines currently outsource their heavy maintenance. While this is nothing new, think TRAMCO and the like, the newer trend is outsourcing to companies that are not in the USA.

This is a trend that I do not think will slow down or stop anytime soon. Of course the unions are up in arms over this (who can blame them) but the truth is that personnel is one of the highest costs for any airline.

There is the nagging question of regulation at these MROs that are outside the country but I feel that they are being addressed. The FAA requires the MROs to operate with similar regulations as any MRO inside the states-but-who is doing the regulating?

I don't think that any airline would get rid of ALL their maintenance to go the full foreign MRO and contract MX route. They know that NO ONE would take care of the planes as well as their own employees.

Anyway check out this link to read the article that brought all this up in my mind:

Congress Wary of Outsourcing Aircraft Maintenance-Roll Call Policy

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Man Is Trying To Shut Me Down

I have said it before and I will say it here again, "I love my job" and I love working at SWA. This is a company that has done amazing things and could very well have a bright future (depending on how we handle some of the critical things we are dealing with now).

As any one who has read my blog can plainly see from my writing I only have good things to say about working at SWA. All of my blogs are carefully written to show SWA in a very good light. I may complain about some of the people that I work with or such but never about the company.

So it was a very big surprise to find out that Corporate Security has decided to ask me to stop with the  blog. Actually I think they had a problem with my picture that I include on the blog more than anything. While I love writing this blog, my job is more important!

I always thought that I was being an ambassador for our Line Maintenance department and tried to shed light on what I think is a very misunderstood and mysterious (to many of the flying public) industry.

So, what does this mean?

Well I think I will continue my blog but I will not be able to relate many of the stories and personal accounts that happen to us. I'm sure that I can't include any pictures of SWA planes. I think that writing about the industry is ok and I'm sure that Corporate Security will not care about me reviewing tools and trends in this wacky world of aircraft maintenance. I have waited a good month to write this as I pondered how to approach this event and the above is how I plan to go about it.

NOT a SWA plane!

For those who read my blog thanks and I will continue to try and write about an industry that I fell in love with when I was 14 years old and began my journey at Aviation High School in NY.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Old Timey Maintenance

For a while now I have been collecting pictures of aircraft maintenance from back in the day. It facinates me. The pictures demonstrate how far we have come but in many ways also show how little has changed. I figured I would put some of these up for you guys to check out.

The old prop-liners were cool and the Connie was the coolest of them all. Check these guys out wearing their white coveralls. It looks to me like they have some kind of radar issue but whats funny is that even today we say "one guy working, two just watching". Some of the ground equipment even looks the same as the stuff you would find at any airport these days.

A patch from a mechanics hat from Wilmington-Catalina Airlines. Even back in the day we wanted to be recognized as mechanics, not rampers. Today there is a struggle-mechanics want to stand out, not be confused with other ground crew. How many times have I gone up to the flight deck to be handed the landing gear pins or the fuel slip by the captain because he thought I was a ramper or fueler. I know it's cost effective for companies to have everyone have the same uniform but every mechanic wants to be recognized as such.

Look at these poor bastards!! Look at those ladders and no safety lines or lanyards. The term "back when men were men" comes to mind. Imagine having to climb up that ladder with tools or heavy parts. Think any of them had a fear of heights? These days the heights may not be as great but they say a fall from even four feet could kill you. Remember that these days we do have to put ourselves in some crazy positions to fix these planes. Walking the crown looking for lightning strikes, RRing rudder PCUs, working out on the wings. The dangers are still prevalent.

This is actually an old picture. It was taken during WWII, and yes they had color photography back then. This is an awesome pic that shows that women have been involved in our industry from way back in the day. Even prior to WWII women did the majority of work on the fabric of fabric covered planes. It always amazes me when people are shocked that we have female mechanics at our job. As a matter of fact one of the best students at my A&P school was a woman. She already had a job lined up working in an auto garage and could work circles around us guys.

The last one for today is not an airplane but it does have a lot of similarities. Hatches are open, tools are being used, etc. These guys are hard at work on this old locomotive. I wanted to include this pic because of the dirt and grime. I don't think this was a staged shot. There is grease and dirt all over these guys and this is what maintenance is actually like. We have a dirty job, some nights you make it through and you are not too bad off, but other nights you are filthy. The dirt and grease get everywhere. Also this demonstrates that the chemicals that we use to keep our equipment (trains or planes or cars) running gets onto us and, let's face it, is slowly poisoning us as we work. It is an unfortunate by product of doing the job we love.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Remember Them Days.....

I am proud of where we have come as a group here in OAK Maintenance. We have a great work area, break room, tooling, etc. We do a kick ass job every day of the year. I wonder how many of us can recall the "old days" before the success back when we were all afraid of losing our jobs because that feeling of having lost our previous job was still fresh in our minds.

Pic of OAK when the T2X expansion was being built.

I am guilty of it, I drive a nice car with leather seats and cruise control. I like to eat out and go on nice vacations. The difference is that I remember them days! I remember when the car we owned could only make it on local trips, as a matter of fact we had a truck and that truck only sat three, but we are a family of five (actually four at that time). These types of things are what I would like to remind my fellow mechanics about in this post. Some times it seems to me that we have lost sight in the where we have come department.

I'm talking about years ago before the leather recliners, nice salaries and stuff. Let's see who remember them days.

Remember when your wife had to drop the kids off at the work parking lot so that she could get to work on time.

Remember when your wife had to drop you off at work because you only had one car?

Remember using the belt loaders for EVERY tire change AND brake change?!!

Remember the parts shed at gate 17?

15 minute turns?

Coach seating on our planes?!

Do you remember how the roof of the maintenance van got caved in?

How many of us remember driving down to San Jose in the van when there were no seats in the back?

Why is the vans sliding door welded shut?

How about the George Foreman Grill?

Snickers, smokes, and a coke.

Who can remember when we HAD to work 2 or 3 planes each per night or the work would not get done?

Remember finishing up work in OAK, heading to SJC to knock some work out and then going to SFO for some more work? And we were happy to do it!!

Remember calling MX CTRL for troubleshooting help?

Who can recall trying to fix MELs on turns? And days when we tried to have ZERO MELs fleet wide!!

Some of us can remember going to Frank's after work for a drink.

The point I'm making is not that the old days were all that grand. We worked and we worked hard. I think a little struggle goes a long way toward motivation. We worked and sacrificed because that layoff was still a bitter taste in our mouths. I fear that as time goes on, some of have forgotten what that was like.

The jobs we have are as stable as any job can be in the airline industry, but don't let that fool ya. We have all seen airlines make cuts that don't make sense, my goal is to make our work group too valuable to cut.

I have SWA's back because I don't want to go back  to the sharing a car with the wife days.  I'll take my leather seats in my own car and yes please install the seat heaters as well, I'm not getting any younger.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Scared of the Flight Crews

I work with a great group of mechanics. These guys have done and fixed planes in all kind of conditions, weather, anytime of day or night. I have seen them improvise and use all manner of tooling and improvised tooling for that matter to fix our fleet. All this makes me wonder why it is that a good number of them are scared of the flight crews.

When I say "scared of the flight crews" I'm not talking about being afraid of them physically. What I am saying is more and more of them refuse to terminate their planes and actually talk to the crews. When our planes land for the night we usually go and "terminate" them. As it was explained to me when I first got hired: you do a quick walk around, check the tires and brakes, then go upstairs to talk to the flight crews and see if they have any sqwacks about the aircraft. This always made sense to me, for one, these pilots are stationed in OAK and you can begin to get to know them and build a relationship with them. I have seen a lot of these guys come home from their very first day at SWA and now they are Captains whom I respect and who hopefully respect me as well. I like to think that when they tell me about something they trust me to fix it. Another thing is that when a crew actually tells you about an issue they go into further detail than you could ever get from the logbook write up. These guys fly these planes everyday and even get to know certain planes so when they say something is off they mean it.

There are a good number of the mechanics who refuse to talk to the flight crews. They will do a very detailed walk around, I'm talking like 20 to 30 mins until the crews are long gone and then go up to the flight deck. They will wait until Operations calls to let them know the plane is ready to be moved, again the crew is long gone. Some won't even go to the planes until they are ready by which time-once again-the crews are gone.

One of the remarkable things about SWA that I noticed when I was hired all those years ago is that all the work groups get along. The pilots and the mechanics get along and that was something new for me, having come from Delta where that was not the case. Perhaps these guys have come from a similar circumstance, who knows?

The thing is the simple act of meeting the crews and talking to them even when they have no problems is an essential part of the job in my opinion. Last month I saw a captain who I had not seen in some time when I went up to terminate his plane. He says "Goat!! I haven't seen you in awhile. Not since I transferred to (another base). Man I miss you OAK MX guys. The MX at (another base) never come out to the terminators anymore."

I let him know that it was becoming rare here in OAK as well and I had no idea why. We both came to the decision that they must be scared of the flight crews........who knows why?

Lightning Strike on antenna