Attention to detail, small problems have big consequences

  • Published
  • By James R. Kelly
  • 97th Maintenance Directorate commander
The importance of aircraft maintenance being conducted with prescribed rules, publications, regulations and technical guidance goes without saying. The same rules apply to all Air Force disciplines. We are all professionals. Aircrews follow checklists and Civil Engineers use prescribed repair manuals. Anytime we deviate from proper procedures, bad things are more likely to happen.

With maintenance manning at a low, it will still take a couple months to get our manning numbers back to where they need to be. Air Education and Training Command, 19th Air Force and wing leadership have been consistent that they will not allow the safety of our personnel or resources to suffer in order to meet aircraft availability requirements by reducing off-station non-mission essential flying such as air shows and limiting the use of hangars for non-maintenance functions.

Locally, daily sortie commitments have been reduced and some of the student training needs are met through Saturday flying. However, even the decision to fly on Saturdays used an operational risk management process that considered how much we could do without wearing out our people.

Proper maintenance discipline is the Maintenance Directorate's bread and butter. The pillar to correct maintenance discipline is to understand and follow the required technical guidance.

It is a proven fact, when maintenance discipline is not followed the results can be deadly. We can point out examples where failure to follow technical guidance resulted in mishaps.

Technical data and job guides are written by experts with the background and experience to understand the system. Rules, regulations, instructions, and standards are not written to be gray areas and should provide a clear black and white path. Many rules are the result of someone else's bad judgment and studies have shown that 20 percent of maintenance causal mishaps involve willful violation of the rules.

Complacency and overconfidence are the main reason mechanics fail to follow the guidance provided. Excuses such as "I've done the job a hundred times before," "anyone can do it," or "I have a better way," are poor arguments. The problem is, by not following the directed guidance we endanger ourselves, our co-workers and ultimately our customers who trust us with their lives. If you believe the instructional information is wrong or you have a better method, there is a procedure in place to correct it. For aircraft maintenance, that procedure is the Air Force Technical Order Form 22.

When you follow approved technical guidance while accomplishing your tasks, you are inherently safer. We are tasked to foster a healthy, safety-focused work environment. We do not have one individual safety officer for the Maintenance Directorate, all of us are safety officers. When anyone sees something that doesn't look right, we all have a responsibility correct or stop the action immediately.

It is your duty to call a safety "time out" whenever you see an action in progress that is not being conducted by the established work process that may become too dangerous. After calling "time out," your team will review and correct the process before reinitiating the work. If you are unable to make the necessary corrections then call "knock-it-off" and engage supervisors and Division Chiefs who will make the final determination.

Our job as maintenance professionals is to know the safety, follow the tech data, and task completion priorities.

We are all accountable when performing our jobs and must set high standards for ourselves and expect that from others. We must take ownership for our actions and decisions, hold each other accountable, and be stakeholders in the outcome of our team's actions.

Remember, there is no privacy when it comes to your professional performance. Higher headquarters and wing leadership have made decisions to reduce the chance of hurting our people and resources and we need to be sure we continue to follow their lead. We have one set of standards and we will not compromise them.