Thursday, August 05, 2010

Four Million Dollar Decision

No, not my decision. Although, considering the cost of my airplane, the equipment and other airplanes around me, I technically make four million dollar decisions every time I taxi to parking. But this is about Airworthiness Directives (pronounced Eh Deez).

Anytime there is a failure of some part on a manufactured airplane and it is deemed to be a design flaw, or something that could happen anytime to another airplane, an airworthiness directive may be issued, requiring you to inspect, replace or modify something. The American FAA issues ADs, and usually Transport Canada just copies them. I think they call it promulgation. I imagine Transport Canada issues them too, if they get to the problem first, but the Americans have so much more aviation they tend to lead the way here. If there is an AD for your airplane, you are required to comply with it within the specified time, or your airplane is deemed unairworthy. The specified time may be "before you fly your airplane again," "within N days," "within M flight hours" or the like. There are one-time ADs, which are usually expensive, but you comply with them once and it's done, and there are recurring ADs which usually just require a trained individual to inspect something to see if it's broken, but are annoying because they have to be done every N hours of flight, and there is no leeway. They cannot be postponed a few hours even when other maintenance legally can be.

I think I've explained most of this before, probably many times while waiting for ADs to be completed, but I happened to run across a document today showing part of the logic process that goes into determining whether a problem with an airplane ends up as an AD or just a Service Bulletin. It shows how quickly a bureaucratic decision can multiply.

Costs of Compliance

We estimate that this AD affects 8,000 airplanes in the U.S. registry.

We estimate the following costs to do the inspection and parts replacement:

Labor Cost: 4 work-hours X $80 per hour = $ 320

Parts Cost: $190

Total Cost Per Airplane: $510

Total Cost on U.S. Operators: $4,080,000

It's some inexpensive (two hundred bucks is a cheap airplane part) part buried somewhere that takes two guys most of an hour to take the airplane apart to get at it, a few minutes to replace, and then another hour to reassemble test and certify. And that's a one-time AD.

Speaking of decisions with consequences, some time ago I told my boss about my blog. I was sitting in a hangar typing on my laptop and he ambushed me with some friendly question like "what are you doing?" and, being completely untrained in the art of lying, I told him I was blogging. I figured the word "blog" makes most people think of twilight fan fiction, emo angst and accounts of shopping trips, and that he would be even less inclined to read it than he is to read my status reports. But he asked for the blog URL. He read some of it, laughed and moved on. I figured that would be the end of it. After all What business owner has time to read blogs?

Then, weeks later, I was taking video of a tractor engine that was on the verge of catching fire. A contractor was using the self-destructing tractor as a tug, and I was teasing him that using that vehicle to tow airplanes in for maintenance was like a sign painter advertising his skills with a billboard done in crayon. I mean you can't keep your own tractor in good repair, but we should trust you with an airplane? The boss saw me intently pointing the camera. "For your blog?" he asked. The look on my face was probably something like "Uhh, you remember that?" and I answered, "Yeah, if it works out." (It didn't, too dark to see what was going on). I suppose this blog is more interesting than the paperwork and terse status reports I keep sending him, but the status reports are more up-to-date.

And as I've said from the beginning, if anyone associated with the operations described in this blog wants anything removed, censored or changed, no problem. Plus I can write more verbose status reports, too. Just ask.


Echojuliet said...

From a machanic's standpoint, the most annoying part of ADs is the hours of research required to determine whether with they have been previously complied. If its a plane I have annualed before, I have a good idea of what does and doesn't need done in this department, and just need to check the new ones. But for the new airplane, its a major chore.

In my experience, I have found that the airplane with the most possible ADs against it is the airplane with the poorest maintenance records.

As far as verbose status reports, I have threatened my safety officer with very colorful detailed "incident reports" of my accidental cotter pin stabbing and inspection hole bruises. She wasn't amused, and stopped demanding I report my frequent use of the first aide kit.

nec Timide said...

As an owner I can sympathize with EJ. Which is why, even when receiving the umpteenth AD for ECi cylinders (of which my airplane has zero), I note the AD number and the continued lack of affected parts on the airplane in the tech log. So far I have managed not to write phrases like "still no evidence pixies have installed ECi components in the airplane". My time is free, my AME's time isn't, so the eiasier I can make his job the better for both of us.

D.B. said...

An excellent tip, nec. I too receive about 9 non-applicable AD's for every one that is actionable. I'll start noting them in the log as N/A.

Aviatrix said...

Sometimes you have to disassemble the airplane just to discover whether or not your airplane has the actionable part, too.

Jimmy said...

As much as a pain as ADs are, sometimes one gets lucky with them.

I was affected by a recent turbo AD. I duly returned my turbo for repair. A few days later I got a call from the boss there and he told me that he was so glad my turbo had been on the list. It seems that it had swallowed some FOD in the past and was missing three blade tips and one blade was stress cracked almost all the way through. His tech that repaired it said it would have blown up within an hour or two at most... Good thing I chose not to use any of the ten hours I had left until it had to be pulled!

One of the rare times I've ended happy about an AD for sure...