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Wings Of Faith
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Chapter 10
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CHAPTER 10

More On Repair Stations

        As time has progressed it became evident to me that I needed to include more information on repair stations.  It is for this reason that I have added a new chapter to this book.

        As I said in a previous chapter repair stations are the most loathsome form of aviation maintenance employment there is. As I write this it is the year 2004 and that statement is more true than it was when I wrote it the first time.  I will attempt to explain why.

        Since the first writing of this book there has been a trend in the airlines to outsource all of their heavy maintenance to third party company's.  Companies like Goodrich Aerospace in Everett, WA., Timco in Greensboro, NC., and other companies throughout the United States that are just like them.  The reason for this has to do with the subject of overhead.  When you think about it an airline that does their own heavy maintenance is more than just a company that flies planes on scheduled routes.  They are also a heavy maintenance repair station because you have to have a building large enough to house the aircraft that are going to be worked on.  This means that the airline must hire additional personnel to do the work and build or lease additional facilities to do the work in.  Both the building and the personnel are considered by most airline bean counters to be overhead.  Overhead that they could easily dump by contracting their heavy maintenance to a third party, namely a heavy maintenance repair station.  Thus putting more money back into the airline or more exactly back into their own pockets.

        There is only one problem with this and it comes in the form of quality.  Quality generated by company loyalty. Southwest Airlines at this writing does some of its own heavy maintenance and so does Delta and American, but they are the only ones left that do.  Due to the fact that they have very large fleets they're not able to do it all.  Consequently about half of their fleets are done by repair stations and not their own mechanics.  Do you think that the mechanics working at the repair stations care as much about the aircraft as the mechanics who work for the airlines? Do you think that they do the same quality of work? Now if you had a choice as to which airplane you would rather ride on, an airplane done by an airlines own mechanics or one done from the repair station, which one would you rather ride on?  This is the point that I have been trying to make.

        Now take into consideration the fact that United Airlines, the largest airline in the United States if not the world, has completely stopped doing their own heavy maintenance, sold their facilities in Oakland, CA. and Indianapolis, IA. and is relying totally on repair stations to do it.  This happened in the year 2003 and when it did I realized that this was going to send a clear message throughout aviation worldwide that this is the direction to go in.  I knew the other airlines would see this, especially those airlines who are on the verge of going to third party maintenance anyway, and that this would probably be the convincer for them.  This news is great for repair stations, but is it good for aviation in general?  I don't think so, and for the reasons already given. But wait, there's more to the story.

        Let us take a moment to look at how repair stations operate and you'll be able to understand better why this is such a bad idea.  When a contract with an airline is signed an initial price per plane is determined for each heavy maintenance visit.  In most cases the airline believes that this is what they're going to pay.  However in most cases this is not true.  As work is done on the airplane new parts are installed.  Some may come from the airlines own stores of parts if they have them, while others may be ordered by the repair station itself.  If the airline can provide most of the parts this will save them a considerable amount of money over allowing the repair station to order them.  The reason for this is that most repair stations don't carry any parts in stock at all because they are considered to be overhead.  Consequently when a repair station orders parts, due to the fact that they don't have them on hand, they are forced to order all of their parts A.O.G. which is an abbreviation for aircraft on ground.  What this does is change the priority of the order to a higher status, which automatically raises the cost of the part by a factor of four.  Repair stations typically order everything A.O.G. and make no attempt to order parts for the airplane in advance, even though they know what the airplane is going to need before it arrives. In my opinion this is STUPID!

        Let's take a look at something on a more minute level.  Aircraft mechanic John Doe comes to work one morning and is given a work card that tells him he must close up access panels on the wing. John goes to the parts rack to look for the access panel that he needs in order to accomplish the task on the card. He finds his part with a bag of screws attached and goes to the area where he is supposed to install the access panel and proceeds to accomplish the task.  Access panels on aircraft are installed with corrosion resistant steel or titanium screws around their perimeter, about 1 to 2 inches apart from each other.  Consequently there are a lot of screws to deal with.  John begins by holding the panel up with one hand and putting the screws in with the other hand. John starts all the screws by hand first and ultimately discovers at the end of this process that not all of the screws are there.  This means that he will have to order some and because most repair stations don't allow mechanics to have access to bins of commonly used items like screws, this forces John to look the part number up in a maintenance manual which wastes time, or if one exists, using a frequently used part number list that may have been given to him by another mechanic.  John then must go to a computer and order his screws, even if he needs only one screw. John's order is then entered into an electronic database and assuming that John only needed one screw, the customer is charged for a pound of screws. This is how repair stations make a profit. They entice the customer with a low initial price and then make up the difference in parts. Because the cost of parts is not factored into the original estimate that the customer settled on, at the end of each heavy maintenance visit a war between the airline and the repair station  ensues over the final cost of the heavy maintenance visit.  This is why it is difficult for a repair station to keep long-term customers and  why having your maintenance done by a repair station may look good on paper but in reality costs you more in the long run.  As far as I am concerned this is an unethical business practice.  I think it is due to the existence of this condition, that as far as management is concerned, that so many unethical people are attracted to it.

        Just as keeping parts on hand is considered to be overhead so are the employees that are required to do the work. Consequently it is an accepted practice in the industry to hire the minimum number of mechanics required to do about 50 percent of the work they expect to encounter at all times. The rest of the workforce is augmented by contract labor.  All across the United States there are numerous contract houses that make money by providing short-term employment to well experienced licensed and unlicensed mechanics. Yes there are unlicensed mechanics in the aviation industry and I'll explain more about that later. A contract house obtains a contract with a particular company and a specific hourly rate per mechanic. At the time of this writing the going pay rate for a contractor is about $17 to $18 per hour, but this isn't what the heavy maintenance company pays, this is what the mechanic himself takes home. The heavy maintenance company will typically pay four times that amount to the contract house and out of those funds all of the employees including the mechanic are paid. There once was a time back in the '50s and '60s when a contractor could bring home $1000 to $2000 a week paychecks without working overtime. Those days are no more and airline deregulation is the primary reason for it. The situation in aircraft maintenance has deteriorated to the point where everyone in every department is minimally staffed, overworked, underpaid and nobody is happy.

        As a direct result of the Gulf War and the war in Iraq the aviation industry in the United States has been given a double whammy. Two years after the Gulf War 50 percent of the airframe and powerplant schools in the United States closed their doors permanently and I would imagine that the number of new airframe and powerplant mechanics has dwindled to about 50 percent as well. Just prior to 9/11 there was a strong upsurge in tourism and travel in the United States and it appeared to have returned to pre-Gulf War levels. It took nearly seven years for this to happen. The major airlines were hiring mechanics and having difficulty finding them due to the loss of these schools. I read a newspaper article where a United Airlines human resources person was quoted as saying that United Airlines was forced to introduce a basic skills test for potential applicants because they were having difficulty finding new applicants who are capable of doing the simplest of tasks such as the safety wiring of bolts. I found this to be very troubling and I wondered how the students could have passed the tests in their own school let alone pass the FAA practical exams without being able to demonstrate that they knew how to safety wire bolts.

        Then 9/11 took place and all of aviation in the United States and the world in general went into the crapper. I had the misfortune of working at a company called Avtel about four months after 9/11. When I arrived there I was shocked to see thousands of aircraft sitting in the desert in long-term storage. I was told by the mechanics who worked there full-time that the day after 9/11 aircraft began to arrive for long-term storage at a rate of one every 15 minutes and it didn't slow down for weeks. The equipment at this company was atrocious. They didn't even have enough equipment for the airplanes they had before 9/11 let alone what happened afterwards. When I worked there they only had one floor jack for over 1500 aircraft. I wondered how this company was being allowed to remain in business considering that federal aviation regulations specifically state that a repair station must possess the minimum amount of equipment required to repair ALL of the aircraft in its care. I don't believe it is possible for anyone to consider one floor jack being adequate even minimally for 1,500 aircraft. Later I asked a friend of mine who works for the FAA why the FAA would allow something like this. He told me that he had been specifically instructed by his superiors that the current status of aviation throughout in the U.S. was so delicate that if they held all of the repair station's to the letter of law it could cause the total collapse of all aviation in the U.S. He also told me that he was being encouraged to cooperate with repair station's and airlines and that unless a condition threatened the safety of an individual flight he was to turn a jaundiced eye towards anything he might encounter until the situation improved.

        Avtel is a repair station that sits in the middle of the Mojave Desert and is located at Mojave California. Its primary function is long-term aircraft storage and its secondary function is heavy maintenance. All across the western half of the United States hidden away in tiny obscure towns are places just like this. Most of them are the remains of military bases that the government gave up years ago. The primary locations for aircraft storage in the U.S. are Mojave California, Victorville California, Goodyear Arizona, Marana Arizona and Tucson Arizona. The reason for these locations is that these areas have hardly any rainfall and are very dry. Due to the fact that aluminum is the major material used in the construction of today's large jets and it is very susceptible to corrosion, a dry climate is the climate of choice for storing aircraft for long periods of time. Unfortunately for the people who work on these aircraft these places are about the hottest places in the entire United States. I have personally witnessed 140 degrees in the cockpit and cabin and seen sweat drip off the back of my hand. It's not a pleasant situation to be in.

        At least in every place that I have worked they do not provide air conditioning under such conditions. The companies do not care about the employees and if they suffer brain or kidney damage from exposure to high temperatures that's just too bad. I have personally witnessed mechanics being carried off a plane from heat exhaustion at the rate of about one every two hours when the temperatures were at their worst. After you've been exposed to heat like this and have succumbed to heat exhaustion you are much more sensitive and more likely to encounter it again. Consequently when this happens to a person and they realize they have no choice but to go back to work under the same conditions they don't come back to work. At AMS I worked with a mechanic who told me about his experience with the heat the year before I met him. He was working inside the cabin of an airplane in Phoenix and it was slightly over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the cabin. He suffers from high blood pressure. People who have high blood pressure don't do too well in high temperatures and neither do people who are fat. He told me he was installing floorboards in the cabin when a geyser of blood shot from his nose and hit the other side of the airplane. Try as he might he was unable to get the bleeding to stop and was driven off the worksite in an ambulance. Since then he found he was unable to work during the summertime in Arizona.

        A similar experience although not heat related occurred to a friend of mine while he was removing the cargo pit walls of an aircraft. He was removing a ceiling panel in the cargo pit when a cloud of dust from between the cabin floor and the cargo pit ceiling hit him square in the face. I do not know what was in this dust, but he immediately went into anaphylactic shock. His lips swelled to four times their normal size and his throat began to swell shut. I was selected to drive him to the emergency room because they were afraid to wait for an ambulance, where he was given a shot of Benadryl that had no effect on his condition whatsoever. This forced the doctors to give him a shot of adrenaline, which brought his condition under control. It took him nearly a week before he could return to work and when he did, he refused to work in the cargo pits again. This led him to be ostracized by his lead mechanic and the hangar manager until they forced him to seek employment elsewhere by making his working conditions intolerable. What caused him to have such a violent allergic reaction to the dust in the cargo pit is unknown. What I do know is that behind the ceiling and wall panels of every aircraft a sizable quantity of air is constantly flowing. As a result of this, dust particles in the air are prone to cling to the structures inside this area. This makes working on an airplane much like working inside a dirty vacuum cleaner bag. When you're working in the cargo pits, at the end of the day you will be covered with the stuff. I personally suffer from allergies and have tremendous difficulty when I have to do this kind of work. However I have never reacted in the way this man did to what he was exposed to and I have never seen anyone else do it either. It is also possible he was exposed to a toxic substance that could have come from hazardous cargo that the airline was carrying as freight. The truth is we will never know what it was.

        After I worked at Avtel and was laid off a friend of mine got me a job working at Hamilton Aerospace. At the time I had heard that Hamilton had gone out of business, but my friend assured me that they were alive and well under a new name. This was the first direct position I had since 1991. By direct position I mean hired directly by the company or in other words it was not a contract position. Hamilton's reputation was well-known to me at the time. Hamilton is almost unanimously considered to be not just the rectum of aviation, it is in fact the toilet bowl. The quality of life and the working conditions there are the worst in the industry. After a few days working there I was told by several mechanics that I had arrived at a good time and they proceeded to tell me that several months prior to my arrival they had to bring in their own rags from home to clean the aircraft. I was already shocked that this company didn't even carry basic hardware such as screws and nuts. This condition resulted in the mechanic having to order everything that he needed and then wait for it to arrive before installing it on the plane and in many situations the airplane departed before the part arrived.

        My first real clash with their operating philosophy occurred when I was doing a B check on a Falcon Express Airlines Boeing 727. The work card that I was given told me to remove the auxiliary power unit burner can and inspect it for cracks. The auxiliary power unit on the Boeing 727 is located in the wheel well which is a very odd place for it. The reason for its installation there was due to the fact that the original design of the aircraft did not include an auxiliary power unit. The purpose of the auxiliary power unit on the Boeing 727 is to provide electrical power for the aircraft and pneumatic pressure for starting the engines, while the aircraft is sitting on the ground only. The auxiliary power unit on the Boeing 737 and subsequent models is routinely operated in the air as a backup source of power. Due to the fact that the Boeing 727 has three engines it was believed that operating the auxiliary power unit in the air was not necessary. The wheel well of the 727 is rather spacious and the auxiliary power unit is totally encased in a titanium fireproof box called a shroud. The reason for this is due to the fact that auxiliary power units have been known to leak fuel and oil and can sometimes catch on fire. The titanium box is air tight so if a fire develops it will quickly burn itself out due to lack of oxygen. Even still you don't want to have a fire in the auxiliary power unit compartment because unexpected things can happen. In order to get to the burner can I had to remove a portion of this shroud because the burner can was attached to it along with the fuel nozzle and igniter. When I removed the burner can shroud I quickly realized that some damage to the igniter wire had occurred and I knew the reason why. This shroud is about the size of a hatbox and once you detach it there is no place to put it because of the fuel lines and igniter wire that is connected to it. Consequently the mechanic is encouraged to simply let this shroud hang by the igniter wire. Eventually over successive exposure to this kind of treatment the igniter wire becomes damaged and this is what I found. Having seen this kind of thing before I knew that it was time to replace the wire. I showed the damage to my lead mechanic who told me, "This is not a C check, put it back together." I was quite shocked by what he said and told him that this condition could cause a fire. He replied to me, "If you have a problem doing the work or signing it off I will get another mechanic to do the job and I will sign it off myself." I didn't think that this was right so I showed this to the inspector. When the inspector saw the condition of this wire the look on his face told me that he would rather have not seen it at all. I told the inspector that the wire was damaged and he agreed, but he added that if he wrote it up the administration would come down on him like a ton of bricks. He then told me to put it back together which I did, however I turned the work card in to my lead mechanic unsigned. I think it's important to note that this event occurred on a passenger aircraft.

        Shortly after I arrived at this facility I was told the story of how Hamilton had to change their name from Hamilton Aviation to Hamilton Aerospace. A Falcon Express Airlines Boeing 727 had come in for a B check. Two days prior to its departure the rudder was struck by a manlift and damaged severely. There was not enough time to repair the rudder prior to its departure so it was decided to take a rudder off of an airplane that was in long-term storage at this facility and use it instead. From what I was told Falcon Express Airlines and the owner of the 727 that was in long-term storage were not informed of what had transpired and what they intended to do, which is the equivalent of falsification of documents and stealing. All of the components on an aircraft are serialized for traceability and rudders are no exception, but in the case of the 727 in long-term storage the data plate containing the part number and serial number of the rudder had fallen off and couldn't be found. Hamilton then approached the manager of the composites department and attempted to pressure him to sign off the rudder as airworthy. The manager of the composite shop refused to do it so they approached a lead mechanic in the composite shop to sign it off as airworthy and he did. (Notice a similarity to the statement that was given to me from my lead mechanic? Obviously this facility has a habit of doing this.) When the manager of the composite shop discovered what his lead mechanic had done, he notified the FAA, which resulted in an immediate investigation and about $300,000 in fines. Management at Hamilton then commenced a reign of terror against the manager of the composite shop which ultimately resulted in the termination of his employment. The manager of the composite shop retaliated with a wrongful termination lawsuit and won a substantial award in court. Because the fines from the FAA and the wrongful termination lawsuit were directed towards the company and not to any individual, Hamilton Aviation simply laid off all of their employees and shut their facility down for three weeks, reopened under the name Hamilton Aerospace and didn't have to pay a dime to anyone including the FAA.

        Repair stations are well known for doing just about anything they please to an airplane without the engineering to back it up. One such occasion that I am able to remember with clarity occurred at DynAir. By this time I had worked heavy maintenance on DC-9's for so long I could tell exactly how far along the work had progressed and how many days remained before the airplane would depart. One day I came to work and I could clearly see that the airplane I was working on was going to depart sooner than the airplane next to it. I could also see that because of the way they had packed the airplanes into the hangar that they were going to have to move the airplane next to mine in order to get my airplane out of the hangar for preflight testing. I also noticed that the window belt modification had already begun on the airplane next to mine and that was a big problem. A window belt is a piece of sheetmetal added to the exterior of the fuselage in order to prevent cracks that are prone to form around the windows in the fuselage and you're not supposed to move an airplane after you start drilling out rivets in the window belts. In this case they hadn't just drilled out a few rivets, they had drilled out more than was allowed by standard practices. In fact they had drilled out so many rivets that they were beginning to to lose hole alignment and now they needed to move the airplane which was only going to make the situation worse. When the managers discovered that they had painted themselves into a corner so to speak they ordered a sweep of the hangar for every cleco they could find in the entire facility. When they discovered that a mechanic had some in his toolbox he was ordered to give them up. A cleco is a temporary fastener that is inserted into the rivet holes and is used to keep two pieces of sheetmetal perfectly aligned. The sheetmetal mechanics were ordered to fill as many of the rivet holes with the cleco's as they possibly could. Unfortunately they had drilled out so many rivets there were not enough cleco's in the entire facility to fill all of the rivets holes. Then they moved the airplane and after they had repositioned it back into the hangar nothing lined up. The company was at a total loss about what to do next and the airplane sat for about three days with no work being performed on it until they figured out what they were going to do.  One morning I came to work and discovered that they had taken four railroad ties approximately 30 feet in length and inserted two of them through the windows forward of the wing and two more were inserted aft of the wing, with jacks at each end. As soon as I saw this I asked someone what it was all about because I'd never seen anything like it in eight years of being an aviation. The mechanic that I talked to said that it was DynAir's plan to twist the fuselage of the airplane until the rivet holes in the window belts lined up with the rest of the airplane. This is exactly what they did and it caused a dramatic delay in the delivery of the aircraft. The point to this story is that the entire thing could have been avoided had planning or the project managers or even the lead mechanics done their job. To my knowledge this airplane is still in flight today but I wouldn't fly in it.

        DynAir was a company that managed to remain in business under that name for approximately eight years. By industry standards that is a miracle. I have to give DynAir credit at least in this respect because I know of few other repair stations who can make that claim. However working at DynAir was about the worst experience of my life. Their first repair station was located at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix AZ. Initially they were the repair station for Hughes Air West Airlines until Hughes Air West went out of business and was purchased by Republic Airlines. When Republic bought them they had no need for the repair station in Phoenix so they dumped it. After some time had passed a company called DynCorp purchased the facility and called it DynAir. When they reopened under the name DynAir they rehired all of the mechanics that had originally worked at that facility for Hughes Air West. When this occurred a major good ole boy club was established that was probably the most powerful in the nation. They hated contractors and were so selective over the people that they hired as direct employees that it was virtually impossible to be hired by them as a direct employee. Consequently the best that I could do at the time was to maintain partial employment throughout the year as an aircraft mechanic contractor. We were treated so poorly that your survival there for the duration of your contract was determined primarily by how compassionate your lead mechanic was. I distinctly remember a lead mechanic who instigated an argument with one of his sheetmetal mechanics. The lead mechanic got him so upset that he threw a bucking bar at him. This bucking bar was a huge chunk of steel about the size of a human hand. Due to the fact that I was standing between them when he threw it, it narrowly missed me by about a foot. Within minutes the sheetmetal mechanic was carted out by the police in handcuffs. Everybody that I worked with at DynAir hated the company. My first day on the job there I was told by a fellow mechanic that there was a man who worked in the office above the control booth who spent most of his time watching the mechanics work through a pair of binoculars and if he didn't think you were working hard enough or fast enough you were immediately removed from the premises. I told the guy he was full of it and that I didn't believe him. He then said, "you keep your eyes open you'll see." Several days later I saw it happen with my own eyes and I was made a believer.

        We all knew that DynAir was going to go out of business and that it was just a matter of time before it happened. If I could point a finger at any single cause I would have to say that it was due to bad morale coupled with bad planning and gouging the customer over the final price of a heavy maintenance visit. The contractors used to always get the blame for damage that was done to an aircraft or a procedure done improperly. Yet there came a day when DynAir was forced to remove all the contractors from their facility due to a massive loss of aircraft to work on. I had managed to maintain some friends who were direct employees for DynAir and they told me that after the contractors had left more aircraft were damaged and procedures done improperly than at any other time in their existence. When you consider the fact that a contract house will not hire a mechanic without experience on at least one model of aircraft and that it is the policy of nearly every repair station to terminate immediately a contract mechanic that damages an aircraft, it is highly unlikely that contractors are the cause of the damage to aircraft at any repair station. In my case for example I worked as an aircraft mechanic for 11 years before I accidentally damaged an airplane. In my opinion that's an excellent safety record. If I was repeatedly damaging aircraft I couldn't survive in this business and neither could anybody else who is a contractor.

        Earlier I mentioned that there were contractors that didn't have an aircraft mechanic license and I said that I would explain how this has come to pass. Most of these mechanic's originate from the military. Most of them are very good. Due to the structuring of maintenance in the United States military mechanic's prior to about 1995 were never discharged from the military with an FAA airframe and powerplant mechanics license. Even today this is the case. However due to pressure from the FAA the U.S. military in liaison with the FAA have established a program that identifies enlisted men and women who intend to go into civil aviation after they get out of the military and puts them through a crash course, so that upon discharge they will have their airframe and powerplant mechanics license. Prior to about 1995 the military could care less. This is where the bulk of unlicensed mechanics come from and it is the desire of the FAA to eliminate unlicensed mechanics entirely. Maybe in about 10 or 20 years unlicensed mechanics will become a thing of the past, at least that's what I'm hoping for. The big problem with unlicensed mechanics is that FAA regulations specifically state that the only person who can sign off aircraft paperwork is a licensed mechanic. Consequently unlicensed mechanics must approach a licensed mechanic to sign off their work. This creates a big problem and it slows the progress of the heavy maintenance visit down considerably.

        DynAir's quality of work deteriorated after the contractors were removed which was really a large factor in their going out of business. The reason why is that the word had gotten out that DynAir was producing an inferior product and they simply couldn't get any more business. This is typical for repair stations, which are simply purchased by a large corporations who want to acquire a quick tax deduction and take care less about the people who work for the company or the aircraft that they work on. This is what Lockheed did in San Bernardino, CA. and what Avtel is doing in Mojave, CA. and it is also what Timco is doing in Goodyear, AZ.  When DynAir went out of business they were purchased by a company called Saber Tech, the parent company of which was the Saberliner Corporation. It is important to remember that the name changed but the people inside the company didn't. It was still the same good ole boy club that it always was. Still run by the same inept fools that couldn't make DynAir a successful company. At the time there was a big push within the industry to convert DC-10's and MD-11's from passenger aircraft to freighters. This means placing the aircraft in a jig and cutting a square hole in the side of the airplane large enough for a bus to drive through for the installation of a cargo door. This is a very sheetmetal intensive modification. The first one that Saber Tech did departed overdue and over budget on a massive scale. In spite of this they managed to secure another three aircraft for this modification before ValuJet crashed in the Everglades which resulted in the company going out of business. It is important to remember that the Sky Harbor facility was not responsible for the cause of the crash. The Sky Harbor facility was only responsible for the heavy maintenance performed on the aircraft before ValuJet commenced operations. The crash occurred approximately two years after we did this work. Unfortunately for Saber Tech was made no difference to the FAA and an investigation of the Sky Harbor facility was conducted, but not before a vice president of Saber Tech was caught by the FBI attempting to smuggle ValuJet paperwork out of the facility. If it hadn't been for some curious mechanics who wondered what was in the boxes they were carrying out of the facility at 2 AM and made a phone call to the FAA he might have succeeded.

        After Saber Tech went out of business a new company was created called Dimension Aviation, yet it was comprised of the same mechanics that had existed before. They hoped to make a bundle of money doing passenger to freighter modifications on DC-10's and MD-11's. Unfortunately for Dimension they screwed up their first passenger to freighter modification and when word leaked out to the world about what had happened they were unable to get any additional business. Consequently they went out of business slightly shy of a year after they had been begun. When all of the employees were laid off they vowed never to return and in fact this is exactly what happened.

It was approximately four years later that a group of retired executives from United Airlines decided to create a new repair station called AMS. During this four years the heavy maintenance scene in Phoenix was totally gone. During this time I tried to change careers but was unsuccessful in doing so which led me to take a contract at AMS. At first I was very unsure about going to work there. This was due primarily to the abusive treatment than I had received working for DynAir and Saber Tech. However the recruiter who hired me insisted that the management at the company had changed. During orientation we were told that management had informed everyone underneath them to treat the contractors as equals with the directs and that heads would roll if this didn't happen. By this time a shortage of skilled aircraft mechanic's had occurred. This was about the time that United had to introduce a basic skills test for all of their potential new hires. I was hired at $21 per hour which was the highest pay I have ever made as a aircraft mechanic in my life. Yet all it took was 9/11 to drop that wage to $13 per hour. Working at AMS was a very good experience for me. One of my responsibilities was the installation of over-wing heater blankets, cargo pit loading system, cargo pit smoke detector modification and fire suppression system on Delta Airlines MD-80 aircraft. It was easy work and we got the whole thing down to a system because we were allowed to perform the modifications in the way we thought was best. Very seldom does anybody in aircraft maintenance get an opportunity like that. Many times you're told what you're supposed to do and the order you're supposed to do it in by somebody who's never done it before, but thinks they are an expert. When this happens you find mechanics crammed into a tiny space like college kids in a phone booth or the installation of one project conflicting with the installation of another. We were allowed to work the airplane as we saw fit and because of this we were able to do all of these modifications and perform the 9 G overhead bin modification in two weeks. That's quite a stunt and we did it consistently throughout the entire contract until every aircraft that Delta had was modified.

        Unfortunately for the employees at AMS a new President was selected. This new President had nearly ran Goodrich Aerospace in Everett Wa. into bankruptcy at which point he was asked to resign. From there he went across Paine Field to an aircraft component overhaul facility where he did the same thing with the same results. From the component overhaul facility he became president of AMS. This man didn't like contractors so he got rid of all of us and when he did aircraft began to be delivered late or with more damage than they had when they arrived. A Boeing 737 which was operated by Alaska Airlines was returned to service with 36 safety of flight squawks. The biggest discrepancies on this airplane were the discovery of a cracked floor beam near the L-1 door, crossed horizontal stabilizer pitch trim cables and fasteners missing from the forward pressure bulkhead modification. This was the last airplane AMS ever worked on for Alaska Airlines yet the problems didn't end there. Two project managers were caught stealing toolboxes from the mechanics. I'm not talking about tote boxes, I'm talking about entire rollaway toolboxes with thousands of dollars worth of tools in them. In addition to this towards the end of AMS several Vice Presidents purchased very expensive homes at Estrella Ranch shortly after $40 million disappeared from the company just days before it went out of business. You tell me what happened. I already know.

        When AMS went out of business I thought it would be seven or eight years before the facility would reopen under a new name and new management. Fortunately for me this was not the case. According to all information that I received, which may or may not be the truth, Timco out of Greensboro North Carolina purchased the AMS facility in Goodyear AZ for approximately $200,000. By anybody's price tag that was one sweet deal. It must be remembered that AMS actually owned two facilities. One in Phoenix at Sky Harbor Airport and the other was in Goodyear AZ which is about 35 miles west of Phoenix. The city of Phoenix for a long time had wanted to destroy the Phoenix facility so they would be able to use the land to open up a new concourse at Sky Harbor Airport. Unfortunately when Saber Tech sold the facility to AMS the extended lease that Saber Tech signed carried over to AMS when the facility was sold. Consequently the city of Phoenix was rather unhappy about this, but it was just a matter of time before AMS would go under and all the city had to do was bide its time. When AMS closed its doors the city moved in to demolish the Sky Harbor facility. I wasn't there to see this but I am told that a small group of people gathered at terminal four to watch the wrecking ball destroy the Phoenix facility and threw a party to celebrate its distruction in one of the bars at the airport. Whether this story is true or not is of little significance, it is a well-known fact that a lot of people were happy to see this facility destroyed. When Timco purchased the Goodyear AZ facility they made extensive repairs to the hangar. They laid an epoxy coating on the floor which took out all of the potholes. The floor of this hangar was so bad when Timco purchased the hangars it was necessary to push your toolbox around them because if your toolbox fell into one it would take a great deal of effort to get it back out. This was essentially the only modification to the facility that Timco made. They did however remove about 250,000 pounds of industrial waste that had been left behind by AMS.

        The airport at Goodyear AZ is very large at least as far as square acreage is concerned. As a result of this there are large open areas on the North and South side of the single runway that are conducive to storing aircraft for long periods of time. Long-term aircraft storage is this facility's primary function. When I was first hired at Timco I was assigned to the long-term aircraft storage crew. Specifically the crew responsible for the storage program for Delta Airlines. I was responsible for the care of approximately 19 aircraft, mostly Boeing 737s, Boeing 767s, and MD-11 aircraft. At the time I signed on with Timco they were using the original storage pads that had been built by AMS for the aircraft to sit on. Although the Goodyear facility has plenty of space to store aircraft it has one drawback which is the soil. The entire region and is composed of silt and sedimentary deposits that were laid down by a prehistoric lake bed. This does not produce a surface capable of supporting a lot of weight, especially when it rains. When the soil becomes wet it takes on the consistency of oatmeal and aircraft sink to their axles. It was found by AMS that if the soil was mixed 50-50 with portland cement and laid out smooth it produced a very tough durable surface that would support the weight of most transport category aircraft. In addition it had the added benefit of being recyclable. In other words the desert would ultimately reclaim the area after about six years had passed. When I first arrived at Timco the desert was in the process of reclaiming these areas, yet the surface was still strong enough to support a Boeing 727 or a DC-10. Unfortunately as a result of 9/11 the airport had received a large influx of aircraft for long-term storage and we were rapidly running out of room to put these airplanes. It had gotten to the point where if we needed to retrieve an airplane from the desert we would have to move five of them just to get one out. Retrieving a single airplane could quickly turn into an all-day affair. Repair stations don't get paid for moving airplanes and the amount of time that was being lost in moving airplanes was killing this startup operation. Something had to be done and it had to be done fast or the Goodyear facility was going to go out of business.

        So what did Timco do? Did they stick with a tried-and-true method and expand the long-term storage area or did they tried to cut corners and use the method that had never been used before and was never intended as a method of supporting aircraft. The answer is that they used the latter. Somebody somewhere and I don't know who decided that rather than use portland cement which had worked before and exceeded expectations they would use a new material called avatack as the binder for the soil. Avatack is an animal byproduct glue that was originally designed for soil erosion and dust control along highways undergoing construction. It was never intended to create a surface capable of supporting a 250,000 pound aircraft. This however didn't stop Timco from using it. Timco spent $450,000 to expand the aircraft storage area using this binder. Of course they did their soil samples and created a test area before committing the money, but as far as the test area is concerned they refused to let us use it when we needed it. Consequently this test area was never tested with a real airplane before the money was spent and the area was treated and graded. 450,000 gallons of this glue was added to the soil and then it was packed down with a vibrating steamroller and allowed to dry for one month. After the surface had cured for a month we were told we could use it to store aircraft on. The first airplane to roll a cross this surface was a Boeing 727 which has a heavier footprint than any other transport category aircraft made. It made it about three feet across the new surface before it sank to its axles. As the tow crew was attempting to extract the airplane from the hole it had fallen into an employee of the asphalt company that had prepared the area witnessed the aircraft sink into the mud. He came over to the tow crew and asked them how much these airplanes weighed. We were shocked that they didn't know and wondered why a company would lay down a surface without knowing the weight it was supposed to support. Ultimately we put as many airplanes as we possibly could on this surface because we had run out of room and new aircraft were arriving everyday. Every aircraft that we put on this surface sank in place to the axles. This had a tremendously detrimental effect on our day-to-day operations and in fact had made the situation worse than had nothing been done to the soil at all. But the asphalt company claimed that they would fix the problem and their idea of a fix was to cover the surface with a light coat of tar and a sprinkling of rocks on top. This resulted in trapping the glue and water mixture in the soil and prevented it from evaporating. We all knew what was coming next. When springtime came and the air got hotter the soil re-liquified and we were right back to where we were the previous fall. By this time I was fed up with the place. It was obvious to me that the people running the Timco Goodyear facility were either idiots or the entire facility was intended only as a tax deduction for the parent company and never intended to succeed. I really didn't want to think about a tax deduction possibility because that would mean that we were all crewmen on a sinking boat and it didn't matter how good we were because we were not intended to win, we were intended to lose. Too many of us had already gone through this kind of thing before and I couldn't stand the thought of it happening again.

        It appeared to me that Timco Goodyear had a death wish because everything they did was done in such a manner as to induce failure from the beginning. Allow me to cite some examples. The following is an excerpt of a letter I drafted but never sent as I was able to find employment elsewhere and is representative of the daily operations at Timco Goodyear.

Planning

        My first assignment at Timco Goodyear was with the Delta Airlines storage program with Bill Kelly. As I worked with him we both began to notice a trend. It seemed as if the 7, 14, 30, 60, 90, 180, and 360-day inspections were being issued out of sequence. At the time we didn't keep a record of the work we were doing so there was no way to know for sure. Being suspicious that something was wrong I began to keep a written record of the inspections we were doing and I discovered that our suspicions were correct. At each event when an inspection was done out of sequence I informed Mike Owens about it who then relayed the information to Rob Berney. Then came the day on June 28th when planning issued a 90 day inspection followed by another 90 day inspection for the same airplane on the 29th. I had both documents in my possession and showed them to Mike Owens who investigated further and reported back to me that it was the result of a data entry error. Had this truly been the case then these errors would have stopped occurring, but they did not. Because of this I investigated further on my own, which led me to talk with Tiffany, the clerk in storage. She informed me that planning was using an Excel spreadsheet that she created when she worked for AMS to forecast inspections. She also told me that she offered to fix the spreadsheet, but her offer was never taken. I thought this was very significant because I had offered my assistance to fix the problem too. I was a Senior Aircraft Maintenance Planner for Midway Airlines, possessing both maintenance program and computer knowledge required to make this problem go away. That same knowledge tells me that the problem with the program is that somebody turned off the spreadsheet protection, and that the formulas for date and time have become corrupted by somebody who thought they knew what they were doing but didn't. In addition I have learned that this problem has propagated to both the United and US Airways inspection programs because they are simply copying the flawed program from Delta as new aircraft arrive. It also tells me that using Excel for this purpose although it will work is far too sophisticated for this purpose. A program like Outlook is far easier to use and just as accurate. In addition Outlook offers the ability to print out monthly inspection forecasts, whereas Excel is unable to without the use of advanced programming. How do I know this? I spent four years working as a network administrator and computer technician. I was able to prove in the month of September that a 180-day inspection wasn't due for another five months. Thus saving the company over 200 man-hours of needless work. How was I rewarded? In late September I was removed from the Delta storage program and placed on the Delta return to service crew by Tevis West. I am only left to presume that the reason why was due to the fact that I had the entire Delta storage schedule stored on my cell phone and they knew that they would be unable to continue this charade without being identified at every occurrence. It is obvious from their actions in addressing this matter that hey had no intention of fixing the problem with inspection scheduling. These problems persist to this day. During last week we completed a 360-day inspection that wasn't due until June. This date has been corroborated by Jim Neibel the Delta Airlines representative. Nearly half of the inspections planning is scheduling are out of sequence and being done far too early. In addition they issue 30, 60 and 90-day inspections concurrently on a regular basis, totally overlooking the fact that this particular alignment only occurs at 180 day and 360 day intervals.

        Another issue with planning concerns the arrival of aircraft at this facility. It appears that nobody knows that an aircraft is due to arrive until it is on final approach. This creates problems with the coordination of arriving and departing flights. Two weeks ago the taxi way was blocked by the arrival of an MD-11 for nearly two hours while another MD-11 was preparing to leave. These events would be eliminated if planning posted a schedule of arriving flights in advance at regular intervals. Why aren't they? None of what I have reported leaves an employee with a positive feeling about the viability of Timco Goodyear as a company.

Overtime

        All of line maintenance has been on mandatory overtime off and on since 09/29/03. For the first two weeks it consisted of all crews, 12-hour days 6 days a week. After the second week it was reduced to 10-hour days 6 days a week and remained at that level till 10/13/03 when it was reduced to 10-hour days 5 days a week. No reason has been given for this overtime and none is observable. In many cases this condition has resulted in mechanics with nothing significant to accomplish during the last two or more hours of overtime either due to completion of the work or lack of parts for return to service and the lead mechanic wouldn't let the employees go home. On numerous occasions this overtime was invoked without prior notice resulting in tremendous hardship on those mechanics who have families and children in day care. In addition there has been no announcement as to when this mandatory overtime will end. We have added new employees to our crews and the mandatory overtime continues. Why? When will it end? Mandatory overtime is a tool a company uses when faced with the possibility of going out of business. It is not a method of augmenting the workforce on a whim or on a frequent basis as it is being used now.

        Noticing the increasing level of fatigue in all of us during this time, I was aware that accidents were around the corner and sure enough they came. First there was Salvador Robles who broke his foot and is now convalescing from surgery. Then there was Richard Von Riddle who was riding on the back of a flat bed truck and was ejected from the vehicle when it made a sharp turn. This resulted in Mr. Von Riddle breaking the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand on 10/21/03. To my knowledge no injury report was filed. If the problems in planning had gotten straightened out a sizable amount of the workload in storage would have been eliminated resulting in a dramatically reduced need for overtime and additional manpower.

Equipment and Materials

        In August it was discussed at a hangar meeting that the ladders that we work with were falling apart. We were told that new ladders were on the way the following hangar meeting. To this date not one new ladder has been purchased and the old ones are even worse than they were before. Most of them have braces that are either missing or only attached at one end. Some are bent almost to the point of being unusable. Yesterday a colleague of mine had to beat his ladder with a hammer to get all four legs to make contact with the ground because it was bent.

        At another hangar meeting Rob Berney scolded the storage crews about the condition of the wash rack. He said, “I can't understand why you people don't put your waste oil and skydrol in the waste oil area when it is right there.” I explained to Mr. Berney that the reason why is that the wash rack turns into a lake when we wash an airplane there and that the waste oil area sits right in the middle of it. I told him that nobody wants to wade through ankle deep water to dump their waste. Mr. Berney then ordered someone to see about moving the waste oil area. To date it sits right where it has always been. Nothing has happened and nobody is following up with the issue.

        I have also noticed that broken equipment has been placed into service after it has been red tagged. One such event transpired on 10/12/03 when I red tagged the grey aircraft tug, which had no operating brakes at all. On the following Monday morning the grey tug was back in service and it still had no brakes. On 10/28/03 while installing the thrust reverser and exhaust tube with a forklift on a Delta Airlines Boeing 737 engine the operator either due to fatigue or a lack of knowledge on how to operate this piece of equipment popped the clutch on the forklift seconds after I removed my arm from the engine. This caused the thrust reverser to pendulate and slam into the engine with great force.

        Ground power units continue to be a problem with this facility after nearly a year of operation. At any given time it seems that there are always two of them broken, and such is the case at the time of this writing. Due to the fact there is no electrical power available in Hangar 18 and nobody appears interested in doing anything about it, a ground power unit is almost constantly needed there due to the fact that we are now using that hangar for aircraft maintenance. This means that there are only two ground power unit's available. One for return to service and the other for storage. This would be fine if it were not for the fact that on many days we are performing a return to service on more than one aircraft. As a result storage gets the short end of the stick. None of this instills any faith in the longevity of this company or the people running it.

        During the month of July this company failed to pay its fuel bill. This resulted in ground service vehicles running out of gas at various locations all over the airport. I was told that this situation was created by the fact that this company had failed to pay their fuel bill for nearly three months and that as a result of this, the fuel company had cut off Timco's line of credit. This condition lasted for three days.

        In August this company ran out of both tape and plastic sheeting for nearly 3 weeks. Then again in the second week of February we ran out plastic sheeting again. These materials are essential in maintaining compliance with the maintenance manuals for long-term storage. How does this company believe that they can accomplish this when the most essential materials are denied the mechanics responsible for the care of the aircraft in storage at Timco Goodyear? How long does Timco Goodyear expect to remain in business under conditions such as these? Or is Timco Goodyear simply intended as a tax write off for Triad and never intended to become a successful business venture?

Training And Safety

        I think that it is widely recognized that a well trained workforce is one that puts out a higher quality product in less time than one that is not. Unfortunately this company has gone out of their way to place employees who are the most trained in areas where they can have the least impact on quality and production. As proof I submit the case of the mechanics who went through Boeing 777 general familiarization. Not one of them ever laid a hand on the Boeing 777 after they got out of the class. Considering the fact that it would take some effort on the part of someone to make this happen, I have no choice but to assume that this was done intentionally. Consider the Allegiant project, which was comprised of mechanics who either had just arrived fresh out of A&P school or the military and consequently had no civilian aircraft experience or no experience at all. Yet seasoned veterans such myself with over 11 years of experience are out in the desert taping plastic to aircraft and inflating tires. In all truth and honesty can you justify this? As far as management is concerned don't even think about saying that nobody told you. I was present when Jim Zievel told me about his conversation with Rob Berney concerning this very thing.

        Another thing that I fail to understand concerns the tool crib. The way the situation is set up now, if I need a grease gun with any kind of grease in it, the tool crib will issue me one and in most cases it will be empty. I will then have to spend approximately 20 minutes ordering grease using the pick system and I will have to fill the gun myself. The same situation applies to alcohol, except in the case of alcohol, I will spend 40 minutes trying to fill a container because I have to use the pick system, wait for someone to serve me, and then walk out to the barrel buildings to fill up a half gallon can from a 55 gallon drum. I may consume that alcohol in the course of an hour and then repeat the process all over again. Does this company think they can afford to waste this amount of time on a daily basis, all for the sake of billing the customer for the use of the materials? What about the work card that I am clocked in on whose time is rapidly ticking away? Which costs the company more? Why can't the tool crib provide these materials directly?

        On 01/27/04 all of storage took a test that was supposed to qualify us to use forklifts and scissors lifts. I was sitting in the break room when my lead mechanic told me to go over to ground service equipment and take the test. He like all the other lead mechanic's informed me that questions 2 and 10 were true and that the rest were false. This test was to determine my ability to operate ground support equipment. I fail to understand how this objective was accomplished when I was given the answers to the test prior to taking it. Later I discovered that several leads had threatened their employees with termination if they hadn't acquired and worn their ground service equipment licenses by the 28th. Unfortunately ground service equipment took nearly a week to complete the cards. Fortunately for the employees no one was terminated.

 

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