Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Or Maybe Not

The reported weather across the north slope of Alaska has been solid IFR all week. I'm remembering when we were sent to work in Florida in thunderstorm and hurricane season, and southern California in fire season. "Did someone research when this place has a good season we could work there?" I idly ask my chief pilot.

"This is the good season," is the reply.

Company is working out how to schedule maintenance when we are in northern Alaska. Flurries of e-mail, (including attachements I can't open on either the iPod or the crippled business centre computer) go back and forth. Plan A is for us to fly to the job site, work until just before maintenance is due, then ferry south to Fairbanks and have company maintenance personnel fly into the large airport to do the work. Plan B is to do scheduled maintenance twenty hours early, before we leave here, and then try to do the ferry north, the work, and the ferry back to Canada, all within fifty hours plus an extension. That requires everything to go right: no diversions, no aborted flights, and no unscheduled maintenance requirements. This is highly unlikely. Airplanes are never that cooperative. Doing the maintenance twenty hours early essentially costs the company the profit that they could have earned on those twenty hours of flight. A ferry, at maximum three hours each way, costs the company the profit they would have earned on that six hours of flight, plus the fuel and wear and tear on the airplane. Those aren't the only costs to consider.

It is also at least twice as expensive to fly maintenance personnel to our current location as it would be to have them to fly to Fairbanks. Accommodations are probably about the same. Not doing what makes the customer happiest may cost future contracts. It's complex.

Management decides on option B. In fact they will add a multiplier to the expense of airfare out of here, by doing a crew change before the trip, and swapping pilots during the maintenance. I've flown home commercially from this airport once before and it was the most expensive one-way fare I've ever purchased. Recall that I've flown one-way two or from seven out of ten provinces from coast to coast, plus many states, including California and Florida. I don't care personally about the expense of the flight, but I was looking forward to flying to Alaska. We both were. And I'll bet you wanted to hear about such an adventure too.

13 comments:

dpierce said...

And I'll bet you wanted to hear about such an adventure too. ...

:( YES

Capt. Schmoe said...

What dpierce said

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, when I read about your company's wanting to do 25 hour progressive inspections I thought that would be detramental to the efficiency of business... unless of course the airplane is near 'home base'. What is required @ 50 hours, and must it be done by professional mechanics? (I own my airplane and in the U.S. can change the oil on it, as well as a whole bunch of other stuff under 'preventative maintenance').

If I'm correct to assume that you're dealing with two piston engines, why not just do a 50 hour oil change and then a conventional 100-hour inspection. That might the long ferry flight of plan 'B' a lot more feasible.

eushrica said...

"Plan B is to do scheduled maintenance twenty hours early, before we leave here, and then try to do the ferry north, the work, and the ferry back to Canada, all within fifty hours plus an extension. That requires everything to go right: no diversions, no aborted flights, and no unscheduled maintenance requirements"

Why does this sound like the pre-amble to one of those scenarios on that Decision Making website you showed us last month?

Aviatrix said...

Anonymous, I must have left out some details in the maintenance schedule chance. The old schedule had an inspection and oil change every 50 hours, alternating between minor and major inspections. The new schedule still has an inspection and oil change every fifty hours, but now the major work is spread almost equally over the four phases.

An owner-maintained airplane is legal in Canada, too (although it lowers the resale value), but a commercially registered airplane must be inspected by professional engineers according to the company's Transport Canada-approved maintenance control manual.

flightless_bird said...

I'm not surprised the weather is often IFR given by the fact that the bay to the east of Deadhorse is called Foggy Island Bay.

http://maps.google.com/maps?q=deadhorse,+alaska&oe=UTF-8&ie=UTF8&hl=en&ll=70.240426,-148.075104&spn=0.430843,2.120361&z=9

A Squared said...

"An owner-maintained airplane is legal in Canada, too (although it lowers the resale value),...."

As I understand it, there is a large difference between owner maintenance in Canada and in the US. If I'm not mistaken, in Canada, an owner can do all, or a large portion of the maintenance of an airplane, but the airplane then becomes forever, a "owner maintained" airplane, even after it's been sold to a different owner. In the US, there is no such program for certificated aircraft. The owner/pilot may do what is referred to as "preventative maintenance" which includes such minor items as changing oil, changing tires, filters things of that nature, everything else must be accomplished by a certificated mechanic. Doing An owner-maintained airplane is legal in Canada, too (although it lowers the resale value),"preventative maintenance" on an aircraft doesn't change it's status.

The only thing we have in the US which would be analogous to the Canadian owner maintenance concept is that builders of home built experimental category aircraft may do the maintenance and inspections on that aircraft.

Sarah said...

Interesting, A^2. Maybe an American could find a good deal in a Canadian "owner maintained" a/c and import it. The Feds would probably give it a std. airworthiness with the std. inspection.

And thanks for explaining the US/CN differences so well. I had a post in the window much less good and abandoned it, because I dimly understand US part 135 requirements, let alone the Canadian equivalent. Oddly, my post also used the word "analogous", which I remember because I had trouble spelling it.

Aviatrix said...

A Squared, thanks for expanding on the owner-maintained program. I'll add than in Canada there are tasks a pilot can do herself, called "elementary work" and listed in the CARs. Only the tasks listed there may be done. They include changing the oil and tires, making small fabric patches and winterizing/dewinterizing the intake baffles. A private owner can just do them. In my operation I can do them if a signed record of receiving training on that item from a licenced engineer is in my personnel file. I'm currently signed off for lightbulbs and fuses, and for reconfiguring the cabin at this company.

Anonymous said...

Aviatrix,

The "elementary" list looks very similar to the list of "preventative maintenance" items I was referring to in the U.S. FARs. I realize that it probably makes a difference as to whether the airplane is used for private or commercial use (and that there are probably more Canadian vs U.S. nuances there). Still, if its legal for the company to certify you (or other pilots) to perform certain items on that elementary list, then perhaps others could be added (going back to my oil change idea).

...I'm not implying that you'd *want* to do that, however :) ... that said, its the kind of thing I enjoy doing as an owner/pilot for 'fun' and to know my machine, but I imagine its all different when its your job.

Aviatrix said...

Nothing that is not on the regulatory list can be added, so while yes, I could be certified to change the oil unsupervised, I can't be certified to do the inspection that is required at the same time.

At the time I was hired the company was advertising for a pilot-engineer, so that the pilot could do field inspections, but they didn't find a suitable candidate.

Curt Sampson said...

Is "engineer" versus "mechanic" a company thing, or a Canadian vs. American thing?

I have to admit, I wince at the use of the word "engineer," since I used to work at an engineering company, where an "engineer" was always a provincially licenced Professional Engineer.

Still, I suppose either will kill people if they don't do their jobs right.

Aviatrix said...

Their licences designate them Aircraft Maintenance Engineers, so while it's not the same as the guy who signs construction drawings, it is the right word. It's just a heavily overloaded word, also used for people who drive trains. I have the idea, but I'm not certain, that "mechanic" is not appreciated by the certificated folk.

I try to avoid "AME" on the blog without context, because in many countries that's a doctor. So you see me use 'mechanic,' 'airplane fixer' 'maintenance folk' and 'engineer' kind of interchangeably. At an actual maintenance unit I'll call the guys and gals 'AME' or 'apprentice' as appropriate, but I'm not beyond calling them "people who knows how to take my airplane apart and put it back together with hardly any pieces left over."