Recently I was briefing the HAI Safety Committee on HAI’s Land & LIVE program, also known as our Land the Damn Helicopter initiative. As most of you know, the program promotes a pilot’s responsibility to make a precautionary landing when the flight is not going well. This could be because of deteriorating weather, aircraft systems warnings, low fuel, illness, or any other reason that the pilot deems appropriate.
In the course of the discussion, Safety Committee member John Knotts, a pilot with the Arizona utility Salt River Project, posed an excellent question: “What about the maintenance personnel? Why aren’t we telling them to ‘put down the damn wrench’ when they are faced with things not going well?”
I did not have a good answer for John and immediately realized we absolutely should address this.
Aviation maintenance technicians are highly skilled, trained, and licensed professionals. Just like pilots, maintenance technicians have the ultimate responsibility: the lives of others are entrusted to their care.
In the aviation community, professionalism is defined as doing the right thing, even when no one is watching, and this quality is just as important in maintenance technicians as it is for the rest of the aviation team.
Just as pilots do, maintenance technicians need to constantly review their environment and activities:
- Do I have the necessary tools and equipment to safely perform the work? Is the working environment and infrastructure adequate?
- Are the current, relevant technical reference manuals readily available?
- Am I completely satisfied that the aircraft or component is ready to be returned to service? Alternatively, am I comfortable leaving the aircraft or component in service?
Any evaluation must also include a personal check-in:
- Am I feeling healthy and alert?
- Do I feel competent to perform this procedure?
If your answers to any of these questions are “No” or “I’m not sure,” then stop and put down the damn wrench!
In many instances while working on aircraft or after making an operational or airworthiness decision, maintenance technicians are subject to third-party pressures that don’t align with a safety-first culture. “When will the aircraft be ready? We’re ready to go now,” says the customer. Or when a maintenance issue is detected, the boss asks, “Can’t we do just one more flight and then ground the aircraft?”
These can be tough questions to answer, especially when the guy asking them signs your paycheck. However, saying “someone made me do this” is not a reason to do something you know is wrong.
Just as pilots are responsible for the safe conduct of a flight, maintenance technicians are responsible for confirming the airworthiness of an aircraft or component. This professional division of responsibilities is one of the foundations of our aviation safety culture — and one of the reasons our industry has prospered and grown.
When presented with difficult questions, maintenance technicians have the opportunity to confirm or deny their true commitment to safety first, above all else. If anyone — co-worker, boss, or customer — tries to pressure you into an action that betrays that commitment, my advice is to put down the damn wrench!
Believe me, you don’t ever want to get that call where you learn that an aircraft or component you worked on was involved in a catastrophic accident. Before turning your back on professionalism, think hard about the potential effects of your decision.
The rest of us in aviation need to remember that maintenance can be challenging. Much of it is done at night, while the rest of us sleep; some is done in remote areas, subject to weather conditions, with limited infrastructure and equipment.
Unlike flying, which can generate revenue for an operator, maintenance only consumes revenue. Although completely necessary to the safety and efficiency of operations, it is often just dismissed as overhead.
Maintenance personnel perform their duties in the shadows, often without recognition or appreciation. So let’s give them the respect and support they deserve. We cannot achieve our safety goals without the expertise and professionalism of our maintenance brothers and sisters, without every member of our team.
I want to thank all of the maintenance men and women whom I have had the privilege to work with over the years, both civilian and military. Everybody reading this should do the same. Hug a maintenance technician today — you will be glad you did.
That’s my story and I am sticking to it. Let me know what you think at [email protected].
As always, fly safe — fly neighborly.
President and CEO of HAI.
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