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New Technology on Aircraft Maintenance

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Impacts of New Technology on Aircraft Maintenance

In this research paper the author identifies several key areas of interest when introducing new technologies in the aviation industry. The majority of the focus surrounds the maintainability of these new technologies and the significant impacts to the maintainers themselves. Much emphasis is given to the people responsible to maintain the aircraft from a human factors perspective. There are many maintenance aspects addressed in the paper to include the impacts on Training and Certification of aircraft mechanics, design considerations in terms of capabilities and ease of access of components and associated equipment. Advancements in procedures, interactive technical manuals and specific emerging maintenance techniques and troubleshooting are introduced from the maintainer’s perspective and those impacts addressed. The key impacts of new technology are summarized for domestic, international, military aircraft operational environments, and the paper concludes with an examination of the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies on aircraft maintenance.
Keywords: aircraft maintainability, design for maintenance, personnel training, human factors
Impacts of New Technology on Aircraft Maintenance
Advancements in technology are a continuous and necessary aspect of our culture. The desire to stay ahead of the competition in both domestic and international environments is what makes our country’s aviation and aerospace industry one of, if not the best in the world today. Very rapid technological advancements in the aviation industry include continuing advancements in physical aircraft design characteristics, avionics and display systems, electrical systems, flight control systems, hydraulic and pneudraulic systems, fuel and propulsion systems, and structural and aircraft skins, to include advancements in the new types of materials used.
While the desired continuous advancements in technology are necessary to maintain the competitive edge in the industry, and there are many key advantages to implementing these new technologies, there are also some disadvantages and tremendous challenges for developing the ability to maintain the aircraft, not to mention the costs associated to keep the new technology aircraft maintainable. In his book, Introduction to Aircraft Design, John P. Fielding states, “Good design for maintenance will minimize such costs. Figure 8.16 shows an overall plan for maintainability (ease of maintenance). Not all of these features are within the control of the designer, but he or she must be aware of them” (Fielding, 1999, p. 124).

suitable tools good maintenance manuals adequately skilled personnel good work and storage facilities suitable test and diagnostic equipment
MAINTAINABILTY good supply train good installation design with easy access maintainable equipment
Figure 8.16 The main factors affecting maintenance. |

The major areas impacted with these new technologies are: * The people performing the maintenance * The hardware and software involved * The procedures and techniques * The varying environments
People Performing the Maintenance
Because people are the most valuable resource, we’ll start with the necessary considerations involving those responsible for keeping the aircraft flying. Those considerations include: * Training and Certification * Human Factors
Training and Certification
Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 65, Subpart D, provides the requirements for aircraft maintenance mechanics. The basic paragraphs of Subpart D include general eligibility requirements, ratings, knowledge, experience, skill, displaying certificates, inspection authorization duration, renewals, and privileges and limitations. While these requirements appear to be very specific, they pose challenges in regards to introducing and implementing new technologies that impact already certificated mechanics. Keeping in mind that most certificated mechanics have already completed the required education and certificate requirements prior to being hired by the airlines, how do they keep up after being hired with the advancements in technology being implemented on the aircraft they are responsible to maintain? Training already certificated mechanics on new technologies being implemented by the airlines costs the airlines in a number of ways. Not only do they have to pay for the training itself in the form of tuition, there are often other associated fees and travel costs. The real “kicker” though is continuing operations during that mechanic’s absence. “Maintenance personnel must be properly trained and licensed in basic aviation maintenance skills as well as on the specific equipment they are assigned to maintain. The FAA states that those personnel eligible for a mechanic certificate must be at least 18 years of age and be able to read, write, speak, and understand English” (Kinnison, 2004, p. 54).
Human Factors Considerations “A great deal of progress has been made toward improving and evaluating the reliability of hardware systems; however, the place where systems most frequently fail is in the interface of humans with the system. Human reliability is generally much lower and more difficult to control than hardware reliability” (Stephans, 2004, p. 135). One would think there would be very specific maintenance Human Factors requirements in the aviation industry, but alas there is not. Why wouldn’t we have the same level of human factors emphasis put on those who maintain the aircraft as we do for those operate them? I personally find this to be a significant shortfall, and there are many in the industry who share my views. In August 2011, the FAA submitted a final report; Prioritizing Maintenance Human Factors Challenges and Solutions: Workshop Proceedings, where it was reported, “Dr. Bill Johnson, Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor for Human Factors in Maintenance, facilitated the workshop for key AVS and selected industry and international personnel responsible for developing and delivering maintenance human factors (MXHF) information relevant to Title 14 CFR Parts 65, 91, 121, 135, and 145. Workshop delegates participated in guiding organizational human factors initiatives and curricula development based on their experience in human factors R&D, operations, or investigation” (FAA, 2011, p. iii). While it’s good to see people are concerned and finally coming together to discuss the issues, we need real requirements, and we need them sooner rather than later.
The Hardware and Software Involved When trying to implement new technologies, there are many aspects to consider in terms of the hardware and software involved. The design itself, to include the development process, capabilities of the system or specific components, and the ease of access to those components and use of additional ground support equipment are all items critical to successfully implementing new technologies.
Design Considerations As mentioned earlier, when designing something new, or retrofitting an existing design, one must always think about the maintenance aspects. Design considerations in terms of maintainability should be solicited from those who actually maintain the hardware or software. Most organizations follow established processes when updating equipment and systems. The development process normally consists of developing potential requirements, formally reviewing those requirements, coming up with potential or conceptual design solutions, even if those design solutions include commercial of the shelf (COTS) components. Once you have the potential or conceptual design solution, the next phase would be a preliminary design review, followed by a critical design review, and a series of detailed design reviews, and finally manufacturing and testing. Why did I take you through this process in such detail? The answer is simple; it is absolutely critical to include maintenance aspects in every phase of development or run the risk of creating or updating a system that is either impossible or very expensive to maintain.
When you think of capabilities, it’s very easy to only think of the capabilities associated with the performance characteristics of the new technology. For example, if you wanted to update a flight deck display, your first thoughts would most likely entail the display location, size, modes of operation, and performance features and capabilities. What about the maintenance capability possibilities? Is there some sort of built in test feature to aid maintainers in assessing the status of the display? Can the display be duplicated on another panel in the flight deck? These are just a couple of capabilities based items to consider when selecting a newer technology to replace dated or obsolete systems.
Ease of Access As a former aircraft maintainer myself, one of the first questions I ask myself about a new system, or a retrofitted system, is the ease in which I can locate, remove and replace components. The ease of access concept also includes any additional ground test equipment required to perform the maintenance or repair of the aircraft system. I’ve personally come across many situations where I’ve had to remove several aircraft components just to access the one bad component. This is very time consuming, jeopardizes the integrity of those other systems, creates a need to perform additional system operational checkouts and obviously drives up maintenance costs, especially repair times; critical to aircraft operations.
The Procedures and Techniques Every good aircraft maintainer relies on his or her own experience and that experience is developed through the use of procedures and developing effective maintenance techniques. The older and well established technical manuals, in most cases, provide system theory of operation, step by step instructions for specific tasks such as removal and replacement of components, operational checkouts, and basic troubleshooting steps.
Interactive and Electronic/Digital Manuals Technical Manuals have always been a significant part of aircraft maintenance. The advancements in aircraft technology also include advancements in how we update, manage, distribute, and use the technical information and procedures to maintain aircraft. “It should be immediately apparent that producing, distributing, and updating these documents is a considerable task. For that reason, we have established the technical publications department within the technical services directorate of our typical midsized airline” (Kinnison, 2004, p. 125). That being said, just imagine the challenges associated to introducing new technologies and systems. Another challenge is maintaining the ability to support those aircraft that have been upgraded while still managing those that have not; maintaining technical manual libraries can be a significant challenge. I personally found this to be a significant challenge as an aircraft maintainer. When an unscheduled maintenance discrepancy was reported by the aircrew on a specific aircraft and system, I had to conduct some preliminary research to discern whether or not the aircraft in question had been modified or not in order to gather the correct tools, technical manuals, and potential replacement components prior to dispatching to the aircraft. All of these activities take time and increase repair times; critical to aircraft operations, as previously mentioned.
Troubleshooting Methods and Techniques While most of the older technical manuals provide basic troubleshooting steps for specific and known system malfunctions, it seems the newer technical publications, often in the form of laptops, simply take the technician or mechanic through a series of steps in order to repair the system and perform an operational checkout with little or no thought by the technician or mechanic. I find this personally troubling because I believe it is degrading the technician’s or mechanics real knowledge of the system and troubleshooting techniques and overall ability. Over relying on the technology alone seems a bit risky, and I believe it should be a combination of the knowledge and skill of the technician coupled with the new technology approach as the most appropriate method to maintain our newer technology aircraft. I’ve found no matter how comprehensive these new technical manuals can be, it always seems there will eventually be some sort of anomaly appear that is not addressed in the technical manual and it is then up to the technician or mechanic to figure it out.
The Varying Environments The impacts of new technologies on aircraft maintenance introduce challenges globally and across many functions. The impacts and challenges to domestic carriers aren’t always similar to international carriers, and certainly U.S. Military aircraft operations are impacted differently and face additional unique maintenance challenges associated to the implementation of new technologies.
Domestic Commercial Carriers In the training and certification and human factors considerations paragraphs above we addressed the FAA training and certification requirements and the lack human factors requirements and guidance considerations for aircraft maintenance. Domestic Commercial Carriers are bound to comply with the FAA requirements while still addressing the human factors aspects of implementing aircraft maintenance systems to support advancing technologies. These are critical tasks given the very competitive environment in the U.S. aviation industry. Companies and airlines must do a balancing act to advance the technology of their aircraft while adapting their maintenance approaches required to maintain those aircraft, while remaining competitive; posing many challenges.
International Commercial Carriers The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a specialized United Nations organization developed in 1944. The ICAO is a cooperative effort amongst its members to establish standards and recommended practices for international aviation operations. The ICAO in the international arena is obviously less stringent than how we operate here in the United States. This concept trickles down to aircraft maintenance as well. The level of fidelity in adequate aircraft maintenance systems will vary internationally from state to state. Just like in the U.S., international carriers are also very competitive, and with what I perceive as a relaxed atmosphere, pose obvious basic aircraft maintenance challenges, not to mention the additional challenges posed when introducing new technologies.
U.S. Military Aircraft Operations U.S. Military Aircraft Operations face very unique maintenance challenges when implementing new technologies. The training systems in place for aircraft maintenance technicians are quite elaborate, often lengthy, and involve the progression of skills based on rank, experience, and certification of specific tasks on specific airframes. In this type of environment, when a new technology is introduced, whether in the form of a completely new aircraft, or retrofitting existing aircraft, you can see the ramifications imposed to develop the proper training and getting the aircraft maintainers through the training and certifications required to maintain the new technology, system, or aircraft while maintaining the ever ready state required by our Armed Forces. I know from personnel experience how daunting this task can be. While training for an upcoming deployment, our squadron was selected as the first to receive an upgraded weapons delivery system with mere months to implement the new system, train individuals to maintain that system in a forward deployed operational environment was a significant challenge to say the least.
The Industry as a Whole The global aviation industry as a whole is varying and complex. As you can see, the maintenance challenges associated to introducing new technologies require a tremendous amount of effort regardless of the environment.
Key Advantages and Disadvantages With the introduction of new technologies, there are apparent and not so apparent advantages and disadvantages.
The apparent advantages to implementing new technologies could include improved safety of flight, improved efficiencies of aircraft performance; improved materials used, and improved aircraft and system capabilities and features. Some of the not so apparent advantages could include improved processes, techniques, and methods used to maintain new technology systems and aircraft.
The obvious disadvantages include the costs associated to implementing maintenance systems to support maintaining the new technologies. If the associated costs to maintain a proposed new technology are high enough, it may alter the decision the implement that technology in the first place. This is another reason why maintainability aspects must be considered early on, and through the development cycle of implementing a proposed new technology.
Summary and Conclusion Make no mistake; the advancements in aviation technology are generally a good thing as long as proper consideration is given to all aspects associated to developing and implementing those new technologies, especially from a maintainability perspective. The sustainability and maintenance costs of aircraft continue to be the single greatest challenge in the aviation industry. “Although there has been a considerable amount of improvement in the quality and reliability of components and systems, as well as in materials and procedures, over the 100-year life of aviation, we still have not reached total perfection. Aviation equipment, no matter how good or how reliable, still needs attention from time to time” (Kinnison, 2004, p. 13).

Fielding, J.P. (1999). The costs of reliability and maintainability. Introduction to Aircraft Design. (pp. 124). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Stephans, R.A. (2004). The Future of System Safety. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Kinnison, H.A. (2004). Aviation Industry Certification Requirements. Aviation Maintenance Management. (pp. 13, 54, 125). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, Aircraft Certification Service. (2011). Prioritizing Maintenance Human Factors Challenges and Solutions: Workshop Proceedings. Retrieved from

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