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Wings Of Faith
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Preface
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 7 

The Commuter
Revisited 

         During the period that I was laid off I decided to go back and visit my good friends at the commuter airline and see how they were doing.  I knew that the Brasilia program was in full swing by that time and I wanted to get a few pictures of the airplane too.  When I got there the look in some of the faces I saw was the look of the worn out and down trodden.  Things had definitely changed in the four months that I had been gone. 

         One of the big problems they faced was just being able to maintain the new Brasilia aircraft.  They were extremely short on parts and someone in their infinite stupidity never purchased any jacks for changing tires.  This forced the crew to use a tug to shove the aircraft tires up a ramped block of wood, so that the tire that could spin freely could be removed.  The company did however purchase some wing jacks for doing landing gear retractions.  Now I ask anyone, even if they are not a mechanic, if you owned a car and had to buy a jack and you had two choices, an expensive jack to jack the car's front end or back end or a smaller, cheaper jack that will allow you to change one tire, which jack do you think you would need first and which one makes more sense to buy? The answer is the smaller jack for changing tires.  Tires are expendable items.  Granted they get retreaded, but you will have to change them many times and long before you have to do a gear retraction check.  Somebody's brain was definitely on hold when that purchase was made. 

         On this particular night I watched them use an aircraft tug to shove this beautiful Brasilia onto this ramped block of wood about twenty-four inches long.  The tug operator was unable to stop in time to position the outboard wheel assembly on top of the ramped block of wood.  When this happened the wheel assembly over shot the end of the block of wood and suddenly fell off the end of it.  At this precise moment a pair of rubber chocks went sailing across the hangar and could have severely injured someone had they been in the way. 

         When you train people in school to use the right tool for the right job and require that your mechanics buy those tools and the company wont even provide some of the most elementary and basic special tools, that are required for the aircraft, you get allot of unhappy mechanics because the company is not living up to its obligations, to its employees or the public.  I walked over and asked one of the mechanics what some of the components were on the engine and ten percent of them he had no idea what they were for.  This indicates to me that the mechanics training was incomplete, which was something that I had expected because I knew the instructor of the class and was aware of the fact that he had virtually no Brasilia experience behind him.  I also knew that the mechanic I questioned was a conscientious mechanic and that he would have known if anybody did. 

         I did not approve of the way that they selected the mechanics that worked on the new airplane.  The Brasilia is a high speed pressurized turboprop aircraft and is much more complicated than the Dornier 228.  Yet the company crammed all their mechanics through their own training program that was run by a man with little experience on the aircraft and any mechanic was then permitted to work on the airplane. 

         If the company had any smarts in their heads they would have selected a small number of their best mechanics and put them through the training course and only those people would be permitted to work on the Brasilia.  The commuter was already suffering from a lack of self-esteem when I left.  It was already suffering from a lack of new positions to advance to.  All the company did was to perpetuate this condition and make the situation worse by increasing the number of aircraft to be worked on.  What the company should have done is to separate the work force into a Dornier team and a Brasilia team and given the Brasilia team a small raise.  Then it would have created a new position and given the other mechanics a goal to strive for and thus created incentive in the work force and elevated the mechanics motivation and pride.  Now all they have is one big mess on their hands.  A1l the old timers there, feel as if they are spinning their wheels and have no way up or out of the situation they are in.  The Brasilia was a new airplane and a new program and if the company wanted to start the program off well, then only their best employees should have been involved and much to do should have been made of those employees.  When pilots were selected for the Brasilia program only the pilots with the highest evaluations were selected out of a list of pilots that wanted to participate in the program.  The reason for this is simple.  The Brasilia is a high-speed turboprop aircraft that is pressurized and much more complex than the Dornier 228.  If the commuter had selected the pilots for the program the way that they did with the mechanics it would have been a total disaster.  On the other hand if the commuter had selected the mechanics for the program the way they did with the pilots the program would have been a smashing success. 

         As it turned out, later on the commuter found after they had already gotten in over their heads that the Brasilia was an aircraft that required a more highly trained maintenance staff and was an aircraft that required allot more maintenance than they had expected.  Because of this the Brasilia's were returned to their lessors and we returned to an all Dornier fleet much to the disappointment of allot of travelers who had come to appreciate the speed and comfort of the aircraft.  All of these things were done in the interest of saving money.  However the savings is an illusion.  It is a number crunchers' hallucination.  Because if you only spend enough to operate half assed then you only get a half assed airline and all of your employees will be looking to work somewhere else.  In the case of the commuter this way of conducting business came back to bite them.  One of the new mechanics they had hired who had just learned on his own, how to tug aircraft, was pushing a Brasilia out the door and smashed it into a Dornier 228. 

         I had to think long and hard about revealing that this event occurred.  It is the most classic example of where airlines go wrong everyday in the interest of saving money.  In this particular accident well over a total of one million dollars of damage was done to the aircraft.  You must also take into consideration the money the commuter lost in revenue due to the canceled flights, since neither of these airplanes were making money for the company anymore until they were fixed.  It would be on the conservative side to say that the entire fiasco cost the airline at least two million dollars.  If the commuter had put their best mechanics on the Brasilia a rookie would never have been at the controls of the tug, pushing around the commuters most expensive aircraft.  If the Brasilia mechanics were given a raise of say three dollars an hour and you had seven mechanics on the project that comes to slightly under $500,000 a year for the pay increase.  Which leaves you another $500,000 you could spend on parts and you're still saving one million dollars over what the accident cost. 

         The parent company also had to realize this the hard way when they tried to weigh a Boeing 737 and it fell off the jacks.  In this case the tail jack was rammed five feet into the tail of the Boeing, causing major structural damage and costing more money than I can even dream of to repair.  The damage was so severe people from Boeing had to be called in to fix it.  All of this damage could have been avoided by using newer equipment that eliminates the need to jack the aircraft.  There are two types of scales used to weigh an airplane.  The old type uses a transducer called a load cell that mounts to the end of the aircraft jack between the jack and the airplane.  The other is a much more expensive system where the airplane is rolled onto pads on the floor that electronically sense the weight and jacking the airplane is not required.  The amount of money spent in fixing the Boeing after it was severely damaged during the jacking operation would have bought us two, maybe three of the electronic pad scales where jacking was not required.  The time savings alone over a period of two years would have easily paid for the units.  Instead we do things the old fashioned way till it bites us in the ass and we wise up.  All the while thinking we are saving money.  Who the hell are we fooling? 

         Regarding the mechanic who was at the controls of the tug when the previously mentioned accident took place, I would like to say that he isn't the first person to smash up an airplane.  When I met him he was so upset over what had happened.  I could tell by the way he felt that this guy will make a good mechanic someday.  When we screw up, we punish ourselves.  Through our feelings of guilt and pain we learn not to do something or to do something a different way.  I have heard of people who have been operating controls in the cockpit of a jetliner and turned on the hydraulics only to find out moments later that the thrust reversers closed on somebody’s' legs and cut them off or that the nose gear doors were not locked out of the system and they closed, cutting the mechanic in half.  I know this mechanic is hurting deeply over the damaged airplanes and that he hurts every time he comes to work and can't avoid seeing the results of the accident sitting on the ramp where everyone can see.  In a way it is like when I got laid off Now that it is over I am wiser for having been through it and I am glad that it happened early in my career, because if it happens again, I will handle things differently.  In the case of this mechanic I am sure there are a lot of things he will do differently now and he is a better mechanic for his experience.  Once again we have another example where aviation is the quintessence of life.

 

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