Safety in aviation remains the utmost priority, with line maintenance one of the key pillars upholding the operational integrity of aircraft. Craig Waters finds out from three MRO companies about this critical role.
Before every flight, line maintenance technicians conduct meticulous pre‑flight inspections (PFIs), checking all manner of components and critical systems, such as avionics, engines, brakes, etc. This activity is crucial and serves as the first line of defence against potential hazards that could compromise the safety of the flight.
Paul Oliver, chief executive of Certified Aviation Services (CAS), says: “PFIs are critical to the safety of an aircraft and provide a structured approach to identifying even basic defects that may be present, such as a birdstrike from a previous flight or a missing fastener. We undertake PFIs on each flight, including a wake-up check for the first flight of the day.”
Lufthansa Technik’s Marcus Motschenbacher, vice president and chief operating officer of aircraft maintenance services, and Rolf-Dieter Gettert, senior director of aircraft maintenance BER and stations, stress that all reports, including PFIs, are part of a comprehensive and well-coordinated concept based on meticulously planned regulations: “These reports are an essential component of a holistic maintenance concept.
“Irrespective of whether it is a question of inspections directly before the flight or significantly more extensive maintenance work at the base of the aircraft, these are always carried out with the same level of care.”
In addition to PFIs, line maintenance involves a series of other routine checks, as prescribed by the aircraft manufacturer and regulatory authorities. But how critical are these types of checks in being able to prevent cumulative damage?
Oliver says: “Routine maintenance checks are critical to ensure potential issues can be detected before they become problematic, and which may then go on to cause an operational issue. By attending to small snags early, our mechanics can prevent unscheduled downtime at a later date; it’s all about getting ahead of the potential issues.”
“The interval and penetration depth of routine checks, derived from the maintenance concept, are an essential pillar of the entire airworthiness concept and are therefore of crucial importance,” explain Motschenbacher and Gettert. “Such checks enable material wear or damage to be detected in good time to prevent disruptions during flight operations.”
So, what happens if a defect or discrepancy is discovered during PFIs or routine checks, and why is time of the essence?
Richard Landsbury, sales director at Rusada, acknowledges that defects are an integral part of airline operations, but how they are managed determines their impact: “Defects on the line can potentially disrupt flight schedules and lead to delays, so having a robust software system in place that can swiftly communicate and rectify them is key. In a world of ever-changing technology, detecting issues early, before they become a critical issue, is becoming ever more possible. Predictive maintenance strategies are advancing, and the analysis of data using powerful software systems positively impacts aircraft reliability.”
Motschenbacher and Gettert add: “If a defect is detected, immediate action is taken. This usually includes the immediate repair with the associated documentation. Lufthansa Technik prides itself of a vast capability of carrying out repairs, both structurally and on components, thanks to its extensive workshops. In exceptional cases, repairs may be scheduled for a later date, adhering to aircraft manufacturer regulations in conjunction with the aircraft operator. Immediate replacements, when necessary, can impact aircraft downtime, but safety remains the top priority in all cases.”
Oliver says: “Defects come in all shapes and sizes. It’s important to strictly follow the OEM maintenance guidelines so that the aircraft can be checked for any defects ensuring that small things don’t end up becoming big things. Identifying problems in good time means an operator or MRO can have parts and documentation available to match a convenient time to undertake the maintenance activity, avoiding lengthy unscheduled delays. CAS training schemes always underscore the importance of pro-active maintenance actions.”
This article continues after the below picture…
Line maintenance activities operate under strict regulatory standards set by aviation authorities such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and compliance with these standards is imperative.
“It’s important to have strict guidelines that are laid down independently by regulators,” explains Oliver. “Our industry is highly regulated which ensures consistency of execution and does not allow operational pressures to conflict or interfere with the correct delivery of the line maintenance activity.”
Motschenbacher and Gettert agree: “These standards, and 100 per cent compliance with them, are fundamental to our aircraft maintenance business With this claim of Lufthansa Technik on our own actions, we ensure that our customers trust us. Lufthansa Technik’s engineering departments, or the those of the airline operator, can however regularly assess the regulations and, based on vast in-operations experience, can give recommendations to the OEM or approve minor deviations thanks to Lufthansa Technik’s Part 21 approval.”
Data analytics and predictive maintenance
Is data analytics and predictive maintenance technologies playing a part in line maintenance activity? Can these innovations help engineers identify trends and patterns and address emerging concerns early, reducing the likelihood of in-flight incidents and unscheduled maintenance disruptions?
Landsbury has observed that predictive maintenance is gaining more and more traction throughout the aviation industry, but he believes access to data is a hurdle to overcome: “Advanced systems using the latest AI/ML technologies exist to be able to analyse vast amounts of data. However, access to such data is increasingly guarded as airlines and operators don’t necessarily want their data in the public domain. There are several success stories out there, whereby a good predictive maintenance strategy has resulted in tangible results and less AOG time, and we’re confident we’ll see more of these in the near future.”
Motschenbacher and Gettert say: “By using our ‘Aviatar’ digital platform, technicians can access data, insights and recommendations that help to optimise maintenance programmes and flight operations and reduce flight delays or cancellations due to avoidable maintenance problems. Lufthansa Technik will continue to invest this platform for increased predictive power for the benefits of our customers.”
Oliver continues: “Data is an increasingly important component to aviation maintenance especially in helping to predict failures and events that could lead to unscheduled aircraft downtime. In modern jets, sensors are now routinely fitted to systems and individual parts that allow trends and patterns to be generated about the specific performance of the system or part, again enabling the mechanics to get ahead of a more serious problem.
“CAS works with several of its operators to help define better ways to work with data systems which in turn improves operational reliability and overall aircraft performance. The consequential savings in troubleshooting and mechanics time from efficient use of data is a true bottom-line value to the operators and MROs. At a time when the industry is short of trained and experienced mechanics, the value of data‑driven predictive maintenance cannot be underestimated.”
This article continues after the below picture…
Coordination with other departments
When asked about whether line maintenance operates in isolation from other facets of aircraft maintenance or engineering departments, the experts agree that efficient coordination is imperative to ensure smooth and uninterrupted operations.
Rusada’s Landsbury highlights the significance of managing all maintenance activities through a unified software system like their Envision solution: “This approach enhances visibility, leading to significant efficiencies across maintenance operations. The increased availability of data enables better planning, streamlining efforts, identifying bottlenecks and generating more insightful reports. There is also plenty that both sides can learn from each other in terms of routines and best practices, so having one connected solution is a great way to facilitate this.”
Oliver agrees that line maintenance plays a pivotal role in the entire maintenance ecosystem: “Keeping an aircraft in tip top condition directly benefits operational reliability and performance efficiency and that starts with the diligent work of front-line mechanics. Efficient line maintenance contributes to streamlined and predictable heavy maintenance inputs, ensuring a seamless connection throughout the maintenance process.”
Motschenbacher and Gettert stress the complexity of line maintenance as a standalone operation but recommend the full integration of technical support for maximum efficiency: “Lufthansa Technik make use of technical and commercial synergies resulting from a full integration of technical support. Our customers appreciate the advantage of having this option at Lufthansa Technik. We do make efficient use of this cross departmental knowledge from engineering to line and even base maintenance.”
Training and skills development
The critical role of line maintenance demands highly skilled technicians. Training programmes are continually evolving to keep technicians updated with the latest technologies and best practices. This commitment to ongoing skill development ensures that line maintenance teams are well prepared to handle any challenges that may arise during their operations.
Oliver emphasises the importance of maintaining skills and competence in line maintenance mechanics: “This is achieved through specific training for aircraft types as well as on-the-job training through mentoring. We are fully committed to providing both aircraft training and mentoring programmes that give mechanics the best chance to grow and be successful in their careers. CAS works with several A/P colleges and has a programme that brings newly qualified mechanics directly into the front line under the supervision of experienced leads and supervisors.”
Lufthansa Technik’s Motschenbacher and Gettert recognise that highly qualified technicians are their most critical asset, essential for customer loyalty and the company’s reputation: “With experienced and well-trained employees, we have been successfully active in the MRO business for more than 60 years. We are particularly proud of our training programme developed together with Lufthansa Technical Training (LTT). Prospective line maintenance technicians complete a training programme approved by the German Federal Aviation Authority (LBA) on a purpose-managed airworthy Lufthansa Technik A320. Guided by well-trained instructors, the trainees achieve solid specialist knowledge in a relatively short time.”
It is clear that the dedication, expertise and adherence to regulatory standards of line maintenance technicians plays an indispensable part to ensure that every aircraft takes to the skies with unwavering reliability.
This feature was first published in MRO Management – August/September 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.