Aug. 24, 2015

An aircraft maintenance issue in the middle of an extended trip often creates problems for almost everyone in the flight department, as well as for the passengers and crew of the affected aircraft. Whether speaking of an AOG situation or a minor problem that still requires immediate repair, these squawks represent the potential for delays and possibly the need to reschedule or reconfigure travel plans.

As with so many other facets of aviation, however, some advance planning may minimize these headaches. “Technical scenarios leading to delays or groundings are a fact of life,” said Eli Cotti, NBAA’s director of technical operations. “We know that machines break occasionally. That makes it important to have a plan in place to manage such situations before you need it.”

Early inclusion and involvement from the director of maintenance enables a team approach to planning for extended trips.

NATHAN WINKLE Director of Technical Services for a Fortune 500 Flight Department

Nathan Winkle, director of technical services for a Fortune 500 flight department and secretary of the NBAA Maintenance Committee, says that prior to any extended mission, his team identifies aircraft servicing contingencies dependent on several factors, including mission destination(s) and trip length, aircraft age and reliability, geographical distribution of parts and technicians, regional experiences and contacts, and the criticality of the mission.

“Early inclusion and involvement from the director of maintenance enables a team approach to planning for extended trips,” Winkle explained. “For less complex missions, simply identifying for the flight crew the local flight support representative (FSR) and the nearest approved maintenance, repair and overhaul facility might be adequate to mitigate the potential service-interruption risk.”

Should your travels be to areas with little to no available support from the OEM or an authorized service provider, “it may be appropriate to either take a technician as part of the crew or pre- position him at the destination,” Winkle continued. “Also notify the responsible FSR and nearest service facility of your travel plans.”

Some missions may also call for enlisting the help of companies specializing in international support for business aircraft. “Simply providing an itinerary to this type of vendor results in getting a detailed technical resource itinerary for the entire scope of the trip,” noted Winkle. “This information can be shared with the crew, scheduling and maintenance staff so that all are prepared to respond appropriately if an unscheduled maintenance issue arises.”

Winkle also recommended developing a rapport with handling agents, as “all of the support in the world will be of little help if you cannot navigate needed parts or tooling through customs.” Above all, prior planning for maintenance-related contingencies helps determine the proper course of action, minimizing headaches for everyone involved, including passengers.

“It should be the goal of any flight department to turn any potential issue into an opportunity to reinforce the flight department‘s value to the company,“ declared Cotti. “It provides the chance to share the message, ‘We have your back, and we have a vested interest in our mutual success. We‘ll get you back in the air as soon as possible.’”

If proper planning is done, even AOG situations during extended international trips may have minimal to no impact on the passengers’ schedule, Winkle asserted. “Situations of a similar nature have taken some operators several days – or even weeks – without a developed technical plan; whereas, those who plan effectively are able to dispatch within hours or, at most, a day or two.”

This article appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Business Aviation Insider.