Rotor & Wing International

Managing Risks in Maintenance

The more we do our job correctly, the more confident we become that we are doing our job correctly.

Humans are not designed to fly, mentally or physically. Yet counter to what is instinctively risky human behavior, a couple bicycle mechanics and a cigar-smoking machinist invented the motorized airplane and then successfully persuaded the rest us to ride in it.

As if flying in a fixed-wing plane isn’t atypical enough, a Russian immigrant came up with the helicopter, in which flight is even more counterintuitive. Think about it: strapped to a seat with a central stationary mast supporting two or more airfoils spinning overhead — leading, lagging and flapping to keep us aloft with a smaller version of the system also spinning furiously but attached 90 deg and aft of the main rotor on a spar-type extension of the main fuselage to provide aircraft heading.

And yet as amazing at it may seem, this cacophony of sound and motion is actually working synergistically, in opposition to the law of gravity, but in compliance with several physics laws from guys like Bernoulli and Newton. No wonder popular belief says that helicopters actually don’t fly, but stay aloft by beating the air into submission.

But every day, while thousands of humans are transported via rotorcraft flight, this number of trusting souls increases exponentially for the fixed-winged aircraft. Why? Because of the fortitude of our aviation pioneers, the expertise of the modern-day aircraft manufacturer and the competence of the pilot and aircraft technician. The inherent risk for flight is now negligible.

Folks have become comfortable flying. In fact, an aircraft accident today is considered unusual, out of the norm and definitely breaking news.

So now the flying public confidently places its personal welfare into the hands of us technicians and pilots, satisfied that we know what we are doing. And as maintainers and pilots, we confidently assume this responsibility of unerring flight performance and error-free maintenance.

But here is the conundrum to this premise: The more we do our job correctly, the more confident we become that we are doing our job correctly. This evolving thought process can precipitate into a syndrome known as “Victory Disease,” a condition in which we arrogantly become convinced of our own invincibility that produces complacency. In maintenance, it is the root cause for risky behavior, unquestionably dangerous and most often insidious. In as much as a pilots’ skills, or lack of skills, are instantaneously obvious to the passenger, the skills or lack of skills of the technician, while just as obvious, are not always as immediate.

So as maintainers, how do we manage the risks and consequences of “Victory Disease?” How do we manage our confidence, preventing it from morphing into arrogance and complacency, as we become competent in our abilities?

How do we manage these and the other risks associated with aircraft maintenance?

We begin the management of all these risks akin to a pilot landing an aircraft. We start with the approach, more specifically our approach to our job.

First and foremost, we are professional, skilled and certified A&P technicians — not justa mechanic. We should practice our profession with pride, but without arrogance, and recognize the warning signs when sense of achievement creeps into hubris — thereby leading to the dreaded “Victory Disease.”

Next, acknowledge that error is probable when a job is left to the caprice of human performance. However, also understand that identification of this probability is not acceptance of its inevitability.

Then be aware of the limits of the human memory, and endorse the concept that the written maintenance procedures are the only tool that, when correctly utilized, will minimize human error.

Next be aware that there are no simple or “no-brainer” tasks when it involves aircraft maintenance. Each maintenance activity requires focus and full engagement of your mind.

Limit distractions and encourage and comply with restricted cell phone usage during maintenance activities. Keep non-maintenance-related chatter to a minimum. Encourage and support the institution of policies that limit distractions during maintenance activities.

Finally, control fatigue, knowing your limitations and when to say “no” to an extended work day. Understand that a fatigued mind and body reduces your efficiency and clouds your judgement. RWI