Aircraft Maintenance Technology

APR-MAY 2018

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AIRLINE with flight attendants was now such that there was always encouragement to report any concerns to the pilots and those working in the cabin always appeared confident to do so. SO, WHAT OF IT? The implications of poor communication between pilots and aircraft maintenance technicians can be far-reaching. Traditionally, a problematic interface between the two groups — say a poorly worded log write-up from a pilot — was assumed to simply result in difficulties for the mechanic in terms of successful defect rectification. However, a recent study**** of over 1,000 reports submitted to the NASA-administered ASRS database, illustrates the broader way in which poor communication can manifest. The reports (the majority which were submitted by U.S. airline pilots operating under rule part 121) outlined a range of issues including disagreements with mechanics over defect rectifications, appropriateness of deferrals, and confusion with the Minimum Equipment List (MEL). The results of such communication difficulties appear to be associated with two types of outcome — operational and safety-related. Operational outcomes — which include flight cancellations, delays, returns to the gate, and pilots refusing to accept an aircraft — were associated with almost half of the reports in the data set. Needless to say, such disruptions to the schedule are obviously undesirable for an airline, both from an economic and customer satisfaction point of view. Problematic interactions between pilots and mechanics were also associated with adverse safety events. While some of these safety-related outcomes had a direct influence on the actual flight (e.g., operating on an incorrect MEL, incorrect maintenance being conducted, or having a maintenance-related event on the subsequent sector), others were seen to negatively impact on the pilot maintainer relationship itself. For example, one-third of all the reports detailing a difficult communication encounter included feelings on the part of the submitter that the trust between the pilot and mechanic had been jeopardised as a result of the event. Almost one-fifth of reports describing disagreements between pilots and mechanics subsequently escalated into what could be described as "heated" arguments — not an ideal situation for either party to be faced with during their workday. WHERE TO FROM HERE? With regard to investment in the pilot-maintainer relationship, resource is certainly a genuine issue, at least from a practical point of view. Removing personnel from the workplace in order to undertake communication training is undoubtedly expensive and developing specialised training programmes also requires a considerable investment, as well as tremendous commitment from management. According to the UK human factors guidance (CAP 737), while airline CEOs and senior managers appear to understand the value of human factors and crew resource management education, there appears to be little inclination to conduct additional training beyond what is required by regulations. This is mainly due to the cost which is associated, an issue which is only compounded by the extensive use of contract employees. Thus, short of mandating joint crew resource management training for pilots and mechanics, the situation remains challenging. The answer to this problem may well lie in how we, as an industry, "sell" communication training. Conceivably, this may require an approach which elects to steer away from marketing such programmes as purely safety-related. Traditionally, safety has primarily been the objective of aviation human factors research, yet, in mainstream occupational psychology, for example, improving business efficiency is a common focus for research teams. Human factors expert Don Harris argues that huge advancements could be made for airlines in terms of improving financial performance but only if our human factors focus shifts toward a wider, socio-technical perspective: "There needs to be greater integration between the various subdisciplines — selection, training, equipment design, and organisational pressures do not exist in isolation. They combine to contribute to accidents so they should be tackled in an integrated manner." With aviation accidents now typically characterised by errors which have crossed many organisational boundaries, investment in a larger section of our workforce may well prove profitable in the long run. Consideration as to how we can be more inclusive with our communication training programmes could certainly be a good start. ADDITIONAL RESOURCES *Hackman, R. J. (1993). Teams, Leaders and Organisations: New Directions for Crew-orientated Flight Training. In E. Wiener, B. Kanki & Helmreich, R (eds) Cockpit Resource Management. San Diego, CA: Academic Press **Civil Aviation Authority (UK). (2014). CAP 737. Flight-crew Human Factors Handbook. Sussex, UK: Civil Aviation Safety Regulation Group *** published Jan. 18, 2015. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2015 from: http://www.telegraphindia. com/1150118/jsp/nation/stor y_8978. jsp#.Vly4vy-6HmI ****Fisher, T. J. (2016) Cleared to Disconnect?: a study of the interaction between airline pilots and line maintenance engineers: a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand TAHLIA FISHER currently works as an aviation safety specialist in New Zealand. Prior to this, Fisher was a commercial multi-engine instrument rated flight instructor. She left flying to pursue a career in flight safety and completed her air accident investigation qualifications at the University of Southern California and the National Transport Safety Board. Fisher has been an accredited air accident investigator with IFALPA and is a member of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators. She has recently completed her Ph.D. studying communication between airline pilots and line maintenance personnel. 22 APRIL/MAY 2018 AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE TECHNOLOGY

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