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Wings Of Faith
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Chapter1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
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CHAPTER 4 

What To Expect
At The Majors 

         So now if things have gone well for you, the time has come for you to place your hands on a jetliner for a major airline.  When I was in A&P school, I was told by all my instructors that there were very few minorities in this field of work.  When I arrived in Miami this couldn't have been further from the truth.  There were Cubans, Haitians, people from Trinidad, Palestine, Germany, Jamaica and just about any other free country you could think of.  One day I remarked about the international flavor of working at Miami International Airport to a huge mechanic named Julian.  He said, "This is the United Nations of aviation man." He was right.  I think that if you are working at a small airport in the Midwest you will probably encounter fewer minorities.  I really don't like the term "minority" but I don't have much choice in terminology.  It is apparent to me now that working for a commuter in the Midwest didn't place me in a position to come in contact with people from other cultures because a small outfit like a commuter draws its' workforce from the area in which it is located. 

         Working in Miami had an unbelievable international flare.  It was a very interesting place to work.  I knew people who spoke seven different languages fluently.  There were very few that didn't speak at least two languages.  Most of the mechanics that weren't able to speak more than one language were Americans.  Kind of a sad statement for our educational system.  When you get more involved in this business you will find that it becomes a feather in your' cap to be able to speak at least one language along with your mother tongue.  In Miami I learned about many foreign airlines that hire their mechanics from all over the world.  One of the primary requirements is that you speak the language of the country will be working in.  This doesn't mean that you can't get hired in a foreign country without being able to speak the language, it just improves the odds a little.  A few airlines like Alitalia specifically require that you be able to speak Italian.  You might be thinking, "What's so great about working in a foreign country?" Well the answer is simple.  It's called tax exempt status.  It means that all the money that you make is yours to keep and bring into the U.S.  If I am not mistaken you can bring up to $70,000 a year into the U.S. without paying taxes.  I have recently learned that most foreign countries will tax a foreign national working in their country as if they were an ordinary citizen if that nation has an income tax.  The situation depends on the country that you will be working in, so check with U.S. Customs, a travel agent or write to Citizens Abroad, Pueblo, Colorado to find out if you will be taxed.  While you are at it you might also ask them for any other pertinent information about the country you would like to work in.  Some of these airlines will provide you with your own housing for free.  Saudi Arabian Airlines is especially known for this.  Most of the middle eastern countries do this.  Now I ask you, if you were contracted for two years at about $38,000 a year with free housing, how much do you think you could save and bring back home? There are many people from the U.S. that like it so much over there they don't want to come back for a long time.  However I have recently learned that Saudi Arabia has tortured many U.S. citizens that are working in their country.  I think it would be best if you plan to work in a foreign country, to inquire with Amnesty International about the political climate of the nation you are interested in.  They can tell you if torture and civil rights violations are a common practice in that country and if a particular country punishes its foreign nationals for thought crimes.  All of these are important things to know before you sign on the dotted line and find that you are in a mess you can't get out of.  Several foreign airlines will hire you if you can only speak English.  It wouldn't hurt to learn a language or two.  After all, if you didn't get in this business to see the world, what are you doing it for?  You have to also think of how a foreign airline or working in a foreign country looks on a resume or application.  Something like this is going to say that you are a highly motivated person.  You can also use living in a foreign country for college credits if I am not mistaken.  I have also learned that foreign airlines place a stronger emphasis on training in type than we do in the U.S.  In other words, if the airline that you want to work for flies L-1011's and you haven't been to L-1011 school in most cases unless the airline is forced by other concerns, that airline will not hire you.  The foreign airlines place a greater emphasis on formal training in type than do the airlines in the U.S.  In the appendix of this book you will find a complete listing of a large portion of foreign airlines and their addresses.  Some of them are not permitted to hire foreign nationals in their country.  The listing of foreign airlines in this book is the mail list that I am currently using in my job searches.  If I have discovered that the airline is not permitted to hire outside their own country or that there are language restrictions it is so noted next to that airline listing.  This will eliminate any unnecessary work on your part. 

         The determining factor in getting hired by a foreign airline is your experience and training.  If you have L-1011, B-747, 757, 767, or A-300, 310, or 320 experience you have what they are looking for.  Most of the foreign airlines that land in the U.S.  hire Americans to work on their aircraft that remain overnight (R.O.N.) in the U.S.  This can be an excellent way to get your foot in the door to a foreign job.  What you have to remember is that the A & P ticket doesn't open a door to instant success.  You have to make it happen.  You have to get the experience the airlines are looking for and you have to solicit employment from them repeatedly.  What you get out of it is what you put in.  Therefore I have no sympathy for the guy who never advances in his career and is constantly complaining about it.  This guy hasn't succeeded in his career because he didn't want to do the required homework.  Interviewers can see this kind of guy coming for miles.  You have to be tough.  You have to handle rejection and high stakes to get ahead.  You will also feel that you have failed and that there is no hope of getting what you want.  When things are like that you have to try harder, even when you don't want to or feel that you can't do it anymore.  That's the difference between a mechanic that succeeds and one that doesn't. 

         The structure of the work force in the shop of a major airline is completely different from the commuter airlines.  In a commuter you have mechanics, a few inspectors and one lead mechanic and that's it.  At the major airline you will have mechanics, inspectors, a lead mechanic for each aircraft and quite possibly a shift foreman for each aircraft undergoing heavy maintenance or at least a general foreman for the entire work force.  As you can see there are allot more positions to advance to at the majors. 

         You will also find that the inspections are done differently than the commuters.  At the commuters you are given a sheet of paper that has a listing of all the work that needs to be done on it.  Everyone picks an item and goes to work.  At the majors there is a guy known as a dock planner who has every job required to complete a heavy maintenance inspection written out on little cards.  A dock planner is person who issues the paperwork to the mechanic to get a portion of an inspection completed.  Most dock planners work the heavy maintenance checks.  I have never seen any dock planners used for R.O.N.  type maintenance but that doesn't mean they might not be used by some outfit somewhere for that purpose.  Ideally a dock planner has an A&P license but there is no guarantee that the dock planner you may be dealing with has one.  In some cases dock planners don't know the difference between a passenger door and a landing gear door.  The inspection cards a dock planner issues are placed into an operational sequence so that the entire inspection takes place with certain degree of coordination and flow. 

         This card tells the mechanic the zone number where the work is to be performed, any access panel numbers for panels to be removed, the frames that the work is to be performed between, any special equipment that may be required and the number of man hours required to do the job.  It is impossible for anyone that has no prior experience on a particular airplane to walk in on his first day and perform work off one of these job cards without a zone and panel book.  If you don't want to be lost, don't let yourself be sent to the floor to work without one.  You simply wont know where to go to get the job done without out it, so get one. 

         You will also notice people running around with these quick reference books to a particular aircraft.  Not every airline produces them.  There will be some.  mechanics at your location who have gotten them from a previous job or a friend at another airline.  Get one from somebody and copy it.  This type of manual is filled with the most important facts about a particular aircraft and it is presented in a format that is quick and easy to use.  I have been trying to get together a library on the various aircraft and it has taken a great deal of effort and money to put it together.  One thing to remember though is that it can all be taken back at tax time so save those receipts.  Allot of mechanics look at me as if I am crazy to spend money to copy training manuals.  Well I plan to teach at an A&P school in my old age and when that time comes along those manuals will be invaluable.  Also it helps me to prepare for aircraft that I haven't worked on yet.  It gives me an edge over someone that has walked into the job cold and knows nothing about the airplane he is working on.  If someone were to ask me where the hydraulics service center is on the L-1011 or how much thrust the engines develop at take off power I can tell them and I haven't even touched one of these airplanes yet. 

         One thing that really gets me about these training manuals is how difficult they are to obtain.  It would be logical to assume that the aircraft manufacturer makes them for the airlines and in most cases they do, depending on the age of the aircraft in question.  Older aircraft such as the DC-9 no longer have training materials about them produced by the manufacturer.  It appears to me that training manuals for aircraft that are no longer in production are not produced by the aircraft manufacturer.  Again this is to the best of my knowledge.  Who is to say that McDonnell Douglas doesn't provide them on request.  Generally it becomes the responsibility of the airlines to produce these manuals.  This is one of the reasons that they are so hard to get.  Another reason is that the aircraft manufacturers will not make these manuals available to the individual mechanic.  In my opinion this isn't the way to do business.  If the manufacturers made these manuals available to the mechanic at a fee, there would be more mechanics qualified to work on the aircraft they sell and I think it would go a long way to improve the popularity of the aircraft that they sell.  These manuals don't reveal any manufacturing secrets so I can't understand why the aircraft manufacturers don't produce them, other than the fact that they don't want to be bothered by the expense or the effort. 

         Due to the increased number of higher positions available at a major airline you may soon find yourself in one of them.  You may even land yourself a high position desk job.  Whatever you do at this point don't sell your tools.  I have seen many mechanics advance and sell their tools only to find out months or years down the road that something has happened with the company and these people without tools now have to work as mechanics and buy them all over again.  Many airlines will permit people that they have promoted to keep their tools on the premises.  If you feel that you have to sell anything, sell your tool box.  You can always get another one pretty fast. 

         When it comes to mechanic training, every mechanic looks forward to their moment in the classroom.  Unfortunately Some mechanics have to wait an incredible amount of time before they get their slot for school.  For those who are not aware of what I am talking about I will explain.  You may be thinking that because you have your license you no longer have to go to school.  Wrong! You will attend a school for every aircraft that you will be working on and every engine too.  In some cases you may even attend school for auxiliary equipment in addition to regular aircraft familiarization class.  Unfortunately the waiting period is so long, in most cases the schooling only backs up what you have already learned on the job.  The airlines also don't place allot of emphasis on these schools for some reason.  If they had a higher importance with the airlines there would be better trained mechanics on the floor than there is now.  With the amount of training we are required to receive I am constantly baffled why the government classifies my profession as semi-skilled labor.  What an insult! Is this classification a remnant of the sticks and rags era of aviation that was something someone forgot to change? Or are we classified that way for a reason? Either way it's wrong! It blows my mind that the government classifies an auto mechanic as a skilled laborer yet we as aircraft mechanics don't even rate that high.  Considering other aspects of our job such as the number of lives we hold in our hands everyday, the regulations we have to live with and the power the F.A.A.  has over us how can this be? 

         Most of the instructors that are chosen for these classes have had very little real experience as a mechanic.  For example my instructor for Dornier 228 class was an electrical engineer and had never turned a wrench in his life.  However in his favor was the fact that he had designed the Dornier 228 electrical system and the aircraft is primarily an electrical aircraft.  But when he was asked questions in class about maintenance topics he could not give us an answer.  My instructor for Boeing 737 school was a mechanic for the grand total of eighteen months with Pan Am.  He worked for Pan Am as a mechanic until he was laid off and went to work for Air Florida until they went bankrupt.  When my airline bought Air Florida he was lucky enough to be hired by my airline as the aircraft familiarization instructor.  I am not implying either men were ignorant about the aircraft.  They could have known more and would have, had they worked on them longer as a mechanic or simply had been a mechanic.  If the instructors had more experience as a mechanic they could have been much more informative. 

         As far as the training goes there is very little of it put on video tape.  Video tape has got to be one of the most unused instructional medias' around and it has so much potential it is a shame that it isn't used more.  Personally I would like to see aircraft inspection programs put on video tape.  The way things are done on the job now a new mechanic is shown a portion of an inspection by another mechanic step by step.  This takes an extreme amount of time and turns the entire inspection into a classroom.  It slows the performance of the whole team and creates a situation where training is avoided because of the delays it can create.  If on the other hand the same procedure was put on video tape a mechanic could take it home with him and watch it in his spare time.  He could play it back as many times as required which is something that the demonstration method can't do.  This would allow the work to continue without the interference of having to conduct training at the same time, which will permit the work to be done faster and eliminate confusion.  By permitting a replay of the tape later it produces a more qualified and skilled mechanic.  Why someone hasn't wised up and realized this money saving opportunity I will never know. 

         Both of the companies that I worked at were subsidiaries of a National Airline and the National Airline itself.  This is good for the company because in times of trouble they can sell one of the subsidiaries.  Which is what we had to do when things got really tough.  It is bad for the company because it tends to produce a certain amount of smugness on the part of employees working for the parent company.  It also creates numerous problems in communication between the various parts of the company.  I can remember a case in particular when I had to remove and replace a cabin window on a Dornier 228.  I was sent up to Chicago to fix it with Van who was another of our outstanding mechanics.  When we left Springfield we had requested that if hangar space was available we would like to put the airplane in the hangar overnight to permit the sealant that is used to hold the window in place and seal it to the weather to cure.  When we got to Chicago we asked about some hangar space and figured we would get it since there was only one DC-9 in the hangar.  We were told in a very impolite tone of voice by the night shift supervisor to forget it.  So we drove over to the airplane at the gate and removed and replaced the window in winds of about fifteen miles an hour and temperatures of about twenty degrees.  Needless to say the sealant didn't cure and when the airplane returned to Springfield the next night there was water in the airplane and the sealant had smeared down the side of the airplane from the slipstream where it finally hardened.  Because of this the window had to be removed and re-installed and the water had to mopped up.  I have never been able to understand why people who were working essentially for the same company could treat another employee in this manner.  I always felt that we were on the same team but there were others who didn't think so. 

         In every mechanics career there will come a time when they will watch an airplane fly off into the blue and know that there is something seriously wrong with that airplane.  For me this did not occur until I was promoted to jets.  Every A & P student in school is so concerned about this type of thing and what they should do if it happens to them.  A&P students always seem to have higher standards than mechanics with years of experience.  You have to have a strong sense of conscience to be a good mechanic. 

         One night I came to work and found out from my supervisor that we had a serious problem with our Boeing 737.  The supervisor told me that on the first landing the flaps were lowered to full and they only went to twenty-five degrees and stopped.  Then on the second landing the flaps stopped at fifteen degrees.  My supervisor then told me to get some lubricating fluid and go to the gate and lube the flaps.  I said to my supervisor that if the flaps were stopping in transit, that there was an asymmetry problem with the flaps and that lubricating them would do nothing.  In case you are unaware of what an asymmetry condition will do to an airplane let me explain.  When the aircraft is on approach to a landing the flaps are lowered to increase lift and allow the aircraft to fly at a slower airspeed. 

         During an asymmetry condition one flap travels more than the other one.  This generates more lift on one wing than the other and causes the airplane to roll.  If the asymmetry is great enough the airplane will roll to the inverted position or roll uncontrollably which will usually result in a crash, due to the aircraft's' proximity to the ground during landing.  To stop this condition from becoming severe enough to cause a crash an electrical protection circuit called the asymmetry detection system, senses the degree of travel for each flap and if an asymmetry of as little as one or two degrees occurs the flap travel is stopped and the flap system fails in a safe condition and can not be reactivated till the aircraft is on the ground.  Another thing that can happen that I never gave any thought was that the flap transmission becomes so damaged that it can't hold the flap down against the force caused be the air flowing over it.  I didn't find out about this possibility until later in my career when I spoke with the director of quality assurance.  When this happens it can roll back up to the stowed position like a roll top desk.  I don't think I need to mention about the consequences should this occur. 

         Getting back to what happened, we got the fluid and went out to the airplane.  It would have been poor maintenance on my part and Carlos, the guy I was working with, if we simply lubricated the flaps without giving the system a thorough visual examination and operational check.  This is very hard to do when it is dark outside and they wont let you take the airplane to the hangar.  We did our best anyway.  Carlos was under the left wing and I was under the right wing and we had another mechanic in the cockpit operating the flaps so they would stop at each detent position.  Every time the flaps would slow down to stop at a selected position a horrible grinding and jerking noise could be heard coming out of the right flap well, which is where the flaps are stowed in the fully retracted position and where the flap operating machinery is located.  To be sure Carlos and I switched positions and we did the test again.  Both Carlos and I agreed that there was something seriously wrong with the flap operating machinery on the right side.  This forced us to get on a ladder and stick our heads into the flap well so we could observe the equipment in operation.  A word of caution here.  The flaps are operated by a 3,000 PSI hydraulic system, if a body part gets in its way, you wont have that body part anymore.  When we got into the flap well we could see that the shaft that was connected to the flap transmitter gearbox on the inboard side was jumping wildly.  The flap transmitter gearbox relays to the electronics in the cockpit the position of the left or right flap. 

         When we observed the operation of the outboard shaft we found that it was running smoothly.  We figured that we had found the problem and thought that the flap transmitter gearbox was stripped.  After a great deal of retrospect it was a stupid idea to think that a flap transmitter gearbox would cause this kind of trouble because it is a component that has very little load placed upon it.  I now realize that when you are dealing with equipment operated by gears or a transmission you don't look for where the trouble stops, you look for where it begins.  We spent the whole night cannibalizing the gearbox off another Boeing 737 that was in for a "C" check and putting it on our broken airplane.  When the sun started to come over the hill we were ready for a test.  So we tested the flaps and found out that we hadn't fixed a thing. 

         I found my supervisor over at our other aircraft and told him that we hadn't fixed it and that it was just as broken as when we started.  He then went up the airstairs to the cockpit and with a determined tone in his voice and said that he was going to test the flaps.  When he did, the flap position indicator in the cockpit, which had been working fine until now indicated left flap twenty-five degrees and right flap ten degrees.  Ordinarily the two needles would be superimposed on each other indicating the flaps were in symmetry with each other.  By this time the day shift had arrived and looked at the flaps while my supervisor was running them.  They too were fooled into thinking the flap transmitter gearbox was broken.  Because the airplane was supposed to fly fully loaded we had a big mess on our hands.  I thought surely with the airplane in this condition that the bird was grounded.  Then the electricians started working on the indicator in the cockpit and the baggage people started shoving bags into the cargo holds.  I started to freak! Then the fuel truck started loading fuel and I was in a panic.  I didn't know what to do.  I knew that if I opposed my supervisor, who was signing off the airworthiness release that I would be fired.  Because I could think of nothing I could do that wouldn't result in termination of employment I did nothing.  Finally clock out time had arrived so I went home and tried to go to sleep and I couldn't.  I turned on the television and watched the twelve o'clock news expecting to hear that my airplane had crashed and that all on board were killed.  I called the gate and spoke with the gate agent, asking her if the airplane had departed or was it grounded.  She told me that it had taken about an hour delay and had departed for Chicago.  This told me that the airplane was flying broken and the pilots didn't know about it and wouldn't know about it till the airplane was on final approach to Midway Airport, which has notoriously short runways.  I watched the six o'clock news and there was nothing.  I felt as if I was horribly ill.  Finally, the next day, I got some sleep and reported to work the next evening. 

         The first thing I did when I returned to work was march into the supervisor's office to speak with John Powers.  Now John was my kind of supervisor.  I knew he would fly no airplane before it was time.  John liked to sleep well in the daytime.  I asked him what happened to my airplane and he told me that it made one landing and that the pilot grounded the airplane at Midway Airport.  Because the only transmission available was at my facility it was ferry flown without passengers back to Miami.  He said that the day shift spent eight hours removing the inboard flap transmission off the right wing of the Boeing 737 we had in for a "C" check and that the afternoon shift spent another eight hours putting the good transmission on.  What he said next will give you some insight into his character.  He said, "I was standing in front of the hangar with my fingers crossed when that one took off " For a busy man like him to stop and watch the airplane take off not only shows how important the repair was, but the amount of concern he had for that airplane.  I then asked if a Boeing 737 could land at Midway Airport without flaps and was told that it was impossible. 

         After much thought about this situation I decided that if I ever wound up in this spot again I was going to tell the pilot.  I decided that I would quietly and discretely tell him where to stand and watch or listen.  I think this is the best policy you can take when you are confronted with this problem.  The pilot will immediately realize that you are trying to save his life and he will protect your anonymity.  Also the pilot is the final authority when it comes to the acceptance of the aircraft and no mechanic or supervisor can dispute him.  This is what I will do the next time this happens and I strongly urge anyone in this situation to handle it in this manner.  If for any reason you find yourself unable to keep a plane from flying that you know in your heart should not be and you feel strongly that you are in the right, there is a one eight hundred number known as the hotline.  One call to this number will ground an aircraft at its next point of landing and when it arrives the Feds will be there to meet the plane in commando fashion.  One point to remember when calling the hotline.  You had better be right! 

         One thing that had surprised me concerning the Boeing 737 with the flap problem was the reactions I got from several of my fellow employees.  One employee in particular had a tremendous effect on me.  One morning I was tired from the previous nights work and as is the case with most people when you're tired, little things get you down very easily.  I was still hurting from the Boeing incident when Jack Gray the lead electrician came up to me and asked me why I was so depressed.  I told him that it was the Boeing.  I then added that although I had only been with the airline two years I liked to think that I had at least some small part to play in my airlines  perfect safety record and that I couldn't believe that someone could so carelessly put that safety record and the public in danger like that.  I said that I was proud of the work that I was doing.  I said that some people seem to think I'm nuts or that I take things too seriously.  It seemed to me that people saying these things didn't care enough about their work.  Jack said the most reassuring thing to me I have ever heard.  He told me that there was nothing wrong with the way I was feeling and that I should keep on thinking that way because that is what made me a good mechanic.  He said I was right to think that I had a part to play in the airline's safety record because I did.  I doubt that Jack ever found out how important it was to me to hear those words at that time.  I hope he finds this book so I can finally get the chance to tell him.  This is just one of the situations that make this job so fulfilling because what people really are on the inside is so beautifully revealed.  Aviation is the quintessence of life.  There are no secrets on the maintenance floor.

 

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