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Commercial Pressure on Engineering

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Commercial Pressure on Engineering

Old 28th Apr 2009, 16:31
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Commercial Pressure on Engineering

Dear all

I'm hoping some of the longterm regulars may recognise me - I've not been on PPRuNe for some time.

My name is Ian Shoesmith and I am a BBC News journalist. For the past three years or so, I've been interested in aviation stories and have produced a couple of major investigations into safety concerns within the industry.

They have all involved a great deal of time and resources, and we have painstakingly weighed up all of the evidence before deciding to publish our findings. Examples of my work include the following:

BBC NEWS | UK | Pilots raise fears over fatigue
BBC NEWS | UK | Air passengers' safety 'at risk'

Each investigation involved me speaking -- in complete confidence -- to dozens of pilots and other aviation professionals. Please be rest assured that any conversations we have will be in the strictest confidence, and completely off-record unless we agree otherwise.

At the moment, I am keen to test an allegation put forward to me by a source within the aviation engineering community. He told me that he fears safety is being compromised because engineers are coming under increasing pressure from pilots and management "not to rock the boat" and to turn a blind eye to serious defects.

He also revealed that more than 80% of all faults are reported on or after homeward legs rather than after downroute sectors. The clear inference being that aircraft -- with problems such as bald tyres, defective hydraulics, engine problems -- are being flown back to the UK in the full knowledge that they should be "no go". Furthermore, my source claims, problems with aircraft are known about, and discussed verbally, but are not written into the aircraft log if it is known the problems can be fixed quickly.

Finally, it is claimed the CAA are not being as robust as they could be owing to the fact that it benefits financially from regulating a growing industry. Parallels were drawn between the way it regulates airlines, and the way the FSA regulated the banks.

Now obviously the above allegations are very serious, and are worthy of further investigation. Anybody in the know can contact me by email: [email protected] or phone 07769 977665.

Best wishes

Ian Shoesmith
BBC News
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 17:05
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He also revealed that more than 80% of all faults are reported on or after homeward legs rather than after downroute sectors.

The clear inference being that aircraft -- with problems such as bald tyres, defective hydraulics, engine problems -- are being flown back to the UK in the full knowledge that they should be "no go".
Ian

I am not an airline pilot but as a former test pilot I am well aware of commercial pressures in many aspects of aviation.

I do not agree with the second para of the quote above. I don't see the first para as a clear inference (operative word clear) in the way you take it - merely that the crew have decided the issue is perfectly acceptable to carry back to base given their knowledge of it and its effects on the outbound leg, but they would not like to see it carried over to another day's operation. The known quality of the base engineers work is often another consideration compared to farming out a problem down route where a poorly executed repair can result in risks that are greater than the known one from the outbound leg.

Not quite a case of "If it ain't broke don't fix it" but more "If it ain't that bad let's not risk fiddling with it here".

JF
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 17:41
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The Engineering Unions ALAE and AEI have been promoting this issue for some time. As a couple of years have past since it was last aired is this another approach via the BBC?

Pilots Not Reporting Aircraft Defects When They Happen, but When It is Convenient - Business News - redOrbit

Aircraft maintenance 'putting passengers' lives at risk' - Telegraph
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 17:42
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Ian
The UK aviation industry is the pride of Europe and possibly the World with Pilots and Engineers doing a very professional job. CAA and EASA contribute to a very robust and highly regulated industry that has resulted in an extremely high level of safety.
It is very dangerous for an amateur like yourselve to delve into things that you do not understand because inevetably you will get the wrong end of the stick, so I hope that nobody will discuss our industry with you. I also feel that you have a cheek to advertise for information on this forum.

If you want to do our Industry a service do an article on the way Airport security hassles Pilots and Engineers to such an extent that crews can operate in a unfit states of mind, but that is probly not sensational enough for yoi
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 18:05
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The clear inference being that aircraft -- with problems such as bald tyres, defective hydraulics, engine problems -- are being flown back to the UK in the full knowledge that they should be "no go". Furthermore, my source claims, problems with aircraft are known about, and discussed verbally, but are not written into the aircraft log if it is known the problems can be fixed quickly.

I doubt any UK airline pilot would want to get airborne with any of those defects Ian. However, in respect of lesser technical problems this is exactly what happens in some airlines. The point is that the Captain has to make his decision taking into account all the circumstances of the flight. Thus a minor defect that is no problem in one set of circumstances may be a real problem in another set of circumstances. Sad but true some airlines operations departments will try and argue the toss and pressure the Captain to fly.

Some years ago I was working as a B737 Captain for an airline that is a well known household name. They Board decided to tighten up on delays. The working practice used was to 'have a quiet word' with a number of Captains on the Fleet (typically new commands) about technical delays. It was suggested or implied that it would 'help the company out' if defects were generally recorded on the last landing and not downroute as this might be less disruptive to the schedule.

In my experience a number of junior Captains picked up on this 'hint' and I noticed an increasing tendency for verbal handovers of defects that were strictly MEL items. On one occasion on a midday rotation leaving base I was verbally told of a flap defect that was clearly a no go. I insisted the departing Skipper 'put it in the book'. The flight was probably delayed all of thirty minutes whilst it was fixed.

This topic is one of those hoary old chestnuts that comes round from time to time. It's difficult to get it into the public domain and difficult to stamp out. So yes, it does happen, it's not good and the CAA need always to keep a close eye on tech log entries to make sure the defects are recorded across the network and not predominately at home operating base.

I'm also not sure that company engineers are always, by default, the best option as they too can get caught up in this culture. On occasion I have found a more objective and independent opinion from contract engineers down route. These guys, being outside company culture, can be more quick to ground an aircraft quite simply because there can be little or no comeback on them.
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 18:51
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At the moment, I am keen to test an allegation put forward to me by a source within the aviation engineering community. He told me that he fears safety is being compromised because engineers are coming under increasing pressure from pilots and management "not to rock the boat" and to turn a blind eye to serious defects.
Well Ian, it certainly fails this "pilots" test! When you say engineers are coming under pressure from "pilots" and management "not to rock the boat," do you mean both Captains and First Officers are making "these executive decisions?" Is it a case of "pilots" are just captains in the exciting world of tabloid journalism?

Engineering (in case your "source" was unaware) have effective dispatch control until the aircraft is presented to the captain for his signature in the aircrafts Technical log. Not the pilot, but the captain. At this point if the captain is unhappy with the status of any aspect of the aircraft he can refuse to accept it. He may (and very often will) accept defects that have been deferred for rectification at a later point in time. This is done in conjunction with the manufacturers/regulators approved list of defects that may be deferred for all or certain types of flight operation.

Your suggestion that captains (or if you prefer "pilots") are placing pressure on engineers to act beyond the approved configuration or approved defects lists, would be downright insulting if it wasn't so risibly ludicrous. Do you think we really, collectively place ourselves and our passsengers in known jeopardy because of some compelling need to dispatch, or for fear of reprisal from our management?

Believe me if there is a "serious defect" that is not allowable or otherwise subject to special provision, it doesn't go. Where I work the engineers would normally come to that conclusion before I or any of my colleagues was required to.

He also revealed that more than 80% of all faults are reported on or after homeward legs rather than after downroute sectors.
There are items that occur downroute that might warrant a maintenance entry in the tech log, such as brake wear indicators getting close to the limit, or tyre wear approaching an unacceptable level etc. However an entry in the tech' log would simply require the captain to transfer it as a deferred entry to another part of the same tech' log and operate back to base. Such items are often entered on the return journey for action on return to base. This would account for 80% of tech log entries (if your source is blessed with an accurate figure,) occuring on the inbound sector. Human nature being what it is, this is more of a paperwork reduction excercise, rather than anything more sinister.

Engineers are professional and in my experience not the shyest of individuals when they have a point to make. Captains are also professionals who occupy a position of trust and authority, coupled with maturity, asssertiveness, and the charge to make sensible (and sometimes unpopular) decisions and judgment calls. I can perhaps understand that some of the contribution to these forums, might lead you to come to an opposite conclusion, but the reality is mercifully very different.

Finally, it is claimed the CAA are not being as robust as they could be owing to the fact that it benefits financially from regulating a growing industry. Parallels were drawn between the way it regulates airlines, and the way the FSA regulated the banks.
The CAA can defend themselves. They are an emination of the state, rather like the Inland Revenue. Similarly I doubt they have many ardent supporters in the public arena. Ask them and see what they say.

Changing the subject somewhat Ian. I am often surprised by the number of otherwise unknown journalists who are afforded extra priviliges and perks by appearing on our cabin crews "special passenger advice" lists. Given their otherwise complete lack of celebrity, I am assuming they telephone in advance to promote their particular presence? I wonder if the reception they receive has influence on the stories they subsequently write? Perhaps that needs investigating? Anyway good luck with your story. Unfortunetaly if it actually bears any resembelance to most "pilots" and engineers actual experience, I doubt it will get to end its days on the floor of many a budgies cage. I suppose we all need to make a living, you might as well do it by impuning our collective reputations.
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 19:06
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We had a lot of speculative and unsupported allegations aired on these fora by a character called 'Safety Concerns' who appeared to be an internet voice for an outfit called AEI. The allegations began over TAP, the Portuguese carrier - at least those were the first I noticed.

I invited SC to respond to a thread I opened in 'Questions' on 10 March to try to stop him/her contaminating the main thread running in Rumours at the time, but there has been no response. I ask you to review the lack of response and I would endorse the request to you to be cautious with this 'problem', which on the 'evidence' (not) presented to us is NOT a problem. I would also add that in my longish time in aviation we are not looking at a pandemic here.
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 19:16
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All the commercial pressure in the world doesn't change the fact that if you carry a snag that should be written up, as the pilot, you will probably be the first to arrive at the scene of the accident when it all goes wrong. It's not quite self-regulation, but it does motivate those who might be tempted to display their non-qualified engineering knowledge at inappropriate moments.

Ask yourself what the motivation behind these posts are to see what the real story is.
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 19:18
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I guess that anybody with an audience can raise safety concerns based on rumor, so called insider information or tidbits to attract readership.

A true safety professional would recognize the difference between malfunctions and imperfections and a measuarble degradation in safety.

So unless you are willing and able to put forth all the day to day defects in flight along with the mitigating assumptions in the aircraft design than all your have is emotional the "sky is falling" headlines.

And yes they certainly are commercial pressures on everybody contributing to aviation including the regulator, pilots and engineers. So what else is new?
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 19:40
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The difference Lompasso is the scope and scale of the current fiscal crisis.

Today I had two consecutive delayed flights, both requiring de-bussing, one for a worn tyre at Toulouse on arrival (!) and one for cabin conditioning/ strong sulpher smell on start up. The only delay I have had in the past 3 yrs travelling was single french air traffic/gatwick fog problem

Of course we will never know the number of GA across all the different airline companies do you want to bet that the tightening of the purse strings is having NO effect on the dispatch rates?

cheers

GR
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 19:48
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Ian,

Here it is from an engineers point of view...

Although I am no longer at the forefront due to a career change I have been in many a situation where commercial pressure reared it's head, myself and all my colleagues never, and I mean 100% never succumned to commercial pressure. It's simple really, as long as you are right then you stand your ground and there can be no comeback.

As for carrying defects to the end of the day, yes it happens but these defects will be things that are not flight critical, I have been in situations where crews for whatever reason didn't want to do the last 2 sectors of the day and wanted to make the aircraft tech and I have asked them to carry the non critical defect to the end of days flying so it can be addressed later. On the other hand I have had a few crews who wanted to take an aircraft which I have deemed unairworthy and have had to persuade them otherwise, in one instance I consfiscated the log book from the flight deck!

Rest assured Ian, the reason why the UK and most of the leading countries in the world have very few accidents is because we as engineers and the professionalism of the flight crews will not under any circumstances take risks.

If you're looking for headline making stories do as a previous poster suggested and look into the security farce, it's the one reason why I left the day to day ritual of trying to get through security with my bottle of lucozade but I could with a tool box full of hammers, stanley knives and leathermans!!
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 20:07
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Amazingly defensive bunch aren't we?

Don't know for sure but here is someone who might be able to make a positive difference in some way. There's nobody more cynical than I am but just ask yourselves if the attitudes displayed here are doing us any favours?

Or maybe everything in the aviation world is just fine?
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 20:24
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Ian Shoesmith,

You do no favours to the "PRESS" that you represent by trawling here for stories.

When I read a news story about aviation, I find that a lot of the information put forward as fact is incorrect. (It's not difficult to check facts, use Google)

This causes my wife to tell me to stop nit picking, but if I can see holes in stories about a subject in which I have some knowlege (40 years in aviation), what conclusions can I draw when it comes to stories about which I have little knowlege.

Anything I read in print or see on TV, I now treat with a lot of scepticism.

Slowly becoming a grumpy old man,
Regards, Dixi188.
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 20:53
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Extract from a private message, names removed, concerning your neck of the woods, not Australia.

I also witnessed a B737 making an overweight landing in **** due to a birdstrike on departure. The a/c returned, quickly checked over and departed again. When asked about if the crew would file an ASR and make a tech log entry, the Ops supervisor replied "nah, we don't do paperwork" !!
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 21:32
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Ian,

Your initial investigative premise is that "pilots" would knowingly take an unworthy aircraft into the air? One that they happen to be strapped to?

Mmmmm. Let me think about that.

It is highly unlikely.

Like several of my fellow posters, the story you should be investigating is the scandal that is UK airport security....

The daily and ritual humilation aircrew are subjected to, not just at out-stations but also at their home bases, in the UK, is utterly disproportionate and completely unjustifiable.

Shoes off, belts off, 125ml tubs of yoghurt confiscated, tooth paste tubes squeezed etc etc, not just once in a while, but all the time......

You might gain a few more sympathetic and helpful responses if instead of trying to find angles to undermine such a highly professional and constantly checked and assessed industry, you direct your illustrious journalistic inquisitation towards areas which try and throw grit into the highly engineered gearbox that is the UK aviation industry.

RB311
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 21:35
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Jar 66

M.A.403 Aircraft defects
(a) Any aircraft defect that hazards seriously the flight safety shall be rectified before further flight.
(b) Only the authorised certifying staff, according to M.A.801(b)1, M.A.801(b)2 or Part-145 can decide, using M.A.401
maintenance data, whether an aircraft defect hazards seriously the flight safety and therefore decide when and which
rectification action shall be taken before further flight and which defect rectification can be deferred. However, this
does not apply when:
1. the approved minimum equipment list as mandated by the competent authority is used by the pilot; or,
2. aircraft defects are defined as being acceptable by the competent authority.
(c) Any aircraft defect that would not hazard seriously the flight safety shall be rectified as soon as practicable, after the
date the aircraft defect was first identified and within any limits specified in the maintenance data.
(d) Any defect not rectified before flight shall be recorded in the M.A.305 aircraft maintenance record system or

M.A.306 operator's technical log system as applicable.


When a pilot is not reporting, he violates JAR OPS and loses his job.
When a engineer is not reporting ,he loses his license.

I don't want to lose my license for the peanuts I earn.
When I have any doubts I ground a plane, doesn't matter from where the pressure comes from....................
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 21:40
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Commercial pressures in aviation? Of course there are as the whole thing is a business in which people attempt to make money. Pretty much a vain attempt these days but hey ho things can change.
They haven't changed mind you for about 50 years or more. What has changed is regulation on account of the unacceptable number of bodies at the end of the runway; which is why aviation, or any other method of transportion, including your average car, is now more safe then ever before.
I cannot think of anyone, except a complete maverick, who would knowingly put a flight at risk.
If you seek sensation I would look elsewhere.
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 21:43
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I think fatigue is a bigger risk than pressures that are placed on Engineering.

It might be more of an issue with a smaller outfit but the big boys (and i hope FR are included) have too much to loose if their engineering depts start making mistakes. Making the a/c serviceable is paramount, but thats not to be read as at by any means possible ie; a short cut.

Company management who are operating on bank bonus wage structures might be an area to look at, while they work their crew to the bone so they can get paid their bonus, crews are leaving work drained, tired, and about to do it all again the next day.

Banks have folded with the risks bankers took, but airline management are still operating with the same payment structures! Thats where mistakes are being made, pressure being put on etc.
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 22:26
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When you have Managers who are rewarded for good TDR (tech dispatch rate) by cash and other means that are connected by contact/control of working Engineers the lines will get a little blurred.

In the old days, many Managers had required licience cover on the aircraft to just pop their details on any paperwork as they saw fit.

Of late, many Managers don't have required licience cover on the aircraft, so they can try to apply pressure to working engineers, so work it out for yourself.

Of interest, just watched the news about a 747 flying low around NYC with a Mill Jet following, a mistake they say, more interest to me is how many people where aware of this mission and for whatever reason were unable stop it !!! Would like to think some raised it may cause a problem, but who knows !!!
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Old 28th Apr 2009, 22:28
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Ian

A word in your shell-like......

The story you are pursuing is a non-story. 25 - 30 years ago I worked for a company, owned and run by an aircraft engineer who knew too many wrinkles, where the words AOG instead of grounding an aircraft merely triggered an order for the replacement component while the aircraft carried on flying. This was under the noses of a compliant CAA where corruption was not uncommon. Those days have gone, thank God, and the statistics of a steady reduction in maintenance errors prove it. You should start, and probably stop, your investigation with a cold look at the facts, and then ignore the silly gossip that the industry loves so much, especially the uninformed among us.

One budget airline that I know has the best maintenance I have ever seen, with funds to keep it so, for the simple and good reason that this saves a lot of money in the medium and long run, even in the short run. A 4-hour maintenance delay can reverberate through the entire system and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, even if you are slow to compensate your customers. It is hard pragmatism at work.

Defects carried when they shouldn't be can be very expensive, to say nothing of dangerous, so the idea that this happens for commercial reasons is, by and large, rubbish.

Commonsense rules; as someone has said better than I can, the optimum course, and smallest risk is frequently to carry an allowed defect back to base. The notion that pilots will carry unallowed defects because of "pressure" is absurd except, perhaps, in the most extreme case where both the pilot and the person applying presssure are idiot mavericks who willingly put themselves, their passengers and their careers at risk.

The words "Accountable Manager" have a meaning that they don't have outside this industry. I am one, and I am not going to risk jail by even allowing something illegal to ne done, let alone encouraging it. The words "I take full responsibility" mean much more with us than when muttered uselessly by Gordon Brown or a banker.

And I'll join those who say your target should the security idiocy that's perpetrated daily round the world. Just as a starter for 10 have a look at the process in which an aircraft goes for maintenance in an unsecured hangar and then comes back into service, and when you've done that look in depth at where, when, if and how cargo is checked. Don't be fooled by the visible, look under the stones. And then do a piece about how the lunacy in airports in nothing but a show to give Governments a warm feeling that they are Doing Something Constructive, when, as ever, the reality is that they are Doing F**k All, because Doing Something Constructive might lose them some friends.

As an example of the silly aviation gossip network that passes on misinformation with a knowing wink, read the post above again;

I also witnessed a B737 making an overweight landing in **** due to a birdstrike on departure. The a/c returned, quickly checked over and departed again. When asked about if the crew would file an ASR and make a tech log entry, the Ops supervisor replied "nah, we don't do paperwork" !!
The clue is in the words "quickly checked over and departed". Now why was that? Because there was nothing wrong, that's why. What would have been bad is if no check had been carried out, but, of course, it was.
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