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?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Airports and FOD

One time I tried counting the airports I've been at and actually worked on planes at. I stopped at 17 or 18. Remember that we Line Mechanics at SWA will fly to other airports when a plane breaks down. For example if there is an engine issue in PDX we fly up there to work the problem. It's actually one of the better parts of the job and it another thing that keeps the job from being routine.

As you can imagine it is normal for airports to be kept clean. Usually the airport operations people are very concerned with garbage and stuff like that on the ground in the ramp area. Foreign Object Damage (FOD) is a big concern for a few reasons:

FOD can get ingested in the engine of an aircraft and cause major damage to the fan blades. It will also bounce around the inlet and tear up the engine inlet.

FOD gets run over by planes and get stuck in the tires. I've seen plenty of bolts, nuts, caps, safety wire, stir sticks you name it stuck in aircraft tires.

FOD on the ground will also puncture the tires of the ground equipment such as jet tugs, etc.

FOD gets blown up by the airplanes as they taxi out to the runways and gets airborne. These missiles can hit equipment, other planes and always seems to find an eyeball or two.

Most airports take FOD damage very seriously and clean the ramp areas often to reduce the threat of such damage. I finally after visiting plenty of airports have decided that the dirtiest, most FOD filled, not caring airport of them all is the one I actually work at the most: Oakland International Airport.

Oakland International Airport is filthy. There are places where the dirt and FOD are piled up, wind blown and more than a few inches deep! It's really bad here in OAK and what makes it even worse is that a lot of the debris gets blown right into the Bay. The Port of Oakland people don't seem to care and they can't say that they don't notice it. As you walk into the airport along the service road from the employee lot the trash is piled up along the fence and just pass the fence is the Bay.

I must have gotten numb to it or else it has recently gotten really bad. Every night when the airport more or less is shut down to the public the cleaning crews come out. I'm not sure what they do all night but when I walk in at 5am and there are cigarette butts piled five or six inches deep in the smoking area trash thing and falling out onto the floor it can't be much. There are garbage cans around the ramp area that get filled up, overflow and wait days and days until they get any attention. The sheer amount of trash is astounding really and I'm not sure what to do about it. It has gotten to the point that it is high on the list of things that make me want to leave this job.

When I go to Sacramento or Boise I marvel at how clean the places are. There are FOD buckets around and the airport must come through with sweeper trucks quite often to keep them that way. I'm not sure how SWA allows Oakland to not clean up. They must know that all that stuff is going into the engines etc. No one seems to care much. I mean I grew up in NYC, The Bronx to be exact, in the 70's when no one really cared about littering. That is what Oakland International Airport reminds me of.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Aircraft Maintenance and Old Age

I know it's been a long time since I've posted (almost a  year!) but I had to get over this whole "Corporate Security" thing. Those of you who are or who know aircraft mechanics know that we can hold a grudge for quite a while! I'm going to continue on every now and then, more stories, more cool tools, etc.

This post is about getting old. It's something that we all have to face and for a lot of us it hits pretty hard and pretty quick. In the early days of my career I did Airline Overhaul. I was crawling around structures, getting into tight corners, lifting heavy-odd shaped things like aircraft lavs, climbing into fuel tanks, laying on aircraft ribs and stringers, grinding all matter of metals and corrosion, you get the picture. Back in the day I was able to do those things and hop right up, walk away, no pain, no aches.

The thought of having to go to work now in my mid 40s and possible climb into a fuel tank is frightening! The little  things are hard these days! Kneeling down to get the bolts off the main tire so we can change it kills my knees. My back puts up a fit when I have to change a flight deck seat. My shoulders scream while I'm changing a position light.

These aches and pains are something all you new up and coming mechs are going to have to look forward to.

The most startling change is the eyes. Back in the day I could read all those tiny tiny tiny wire numbers which are printed on those tiny tiny tiny aircraft wires. I could use a mirror and read those numbers along with those annoying parts data tags on various valves and actuators with no trouble at all. Now part of my Line MX Tool Kit are my reading glasses. Without the help of those suckers I would be in trouble.

I worked with a guy I'll call MDro. MDro was a good mechanic and he was a good supervisor after that. I remember when we would be reading wiring diagrams MDro would wear TWO pairs of reading glasses!

My intent is not to complain about aging but to let you guys know that it gets harder to do this job as you get older. A good friend of mine always say that "it takes a lot of work to make this job look easy". Just know that the work part may not increase but the aches and pain part will.