This week, we thought we would talk about aviation’s favorite subject:
Airworthiness Directives (ADs)!
An AD is a notification to owners and operators of certified aircraft that a known safety deficiency with a particular model of aircraft, engine, avionics or other system exists and must be corrected
If you’re not familiar with ADs, there are three easy-to-remember facts that you need to know:
- The government always writes them so that the AD is easy to understand,
- it’s easy to perfectly comply with every one of them, and
- every AD issued is completely justified.
Oh, and that sound you hear right now? That’s just tens of thousands of industry professionals rolling their eyes and grumbling.
Seriously though — as an industry, why have we struggled for so long with ADs?
They’re NOT a new concept, but airlines continue to end up in the news and aircraft continue to be grounded due to AD non-compliance.
The Synapse team has all worked in the aviation field, and there are a lot of stories we’ve heard on why we ADs continue to be missed… but when you dig into those stories, it really boils down to people and process. The people part is tough to solve — notably because in today’s computer-driven society, aviation continues to use the weak link to update AD compliance information: a human.
Additionally, there are so many touch points for an AD. The Engineer who writes the document, the Materials, Planning and other departments who set up for the AD work… and then the Mechanic and the Records Clerk who create and store the compliance documents, respectively. In each of these cases, the paper-based processes (and even some software platforms!) require manual manipulation by people – this is the area we feel is target rich for corrective action
So if you can’t make a better human, how do you minimize their potential impact?
You have to tackle it at the process level. Naturally, the company’s internal processes are critical to ensuring AD compliance, but the weak point we see is how they handle “interfacing” (to use a dreaded FAA ATOS term!). Larger airlines who have adopted a variety of IT systems and processes during mergers especially have this problem, but it’s still possible to find smaller companies with the same challenges — usually because they simply don’t have resources other than Microsoft Office, paper, and verbal communication.
The problem is that these tools are completely disconnected and therefore totally reliant on manually data entry by a human… which unfortunately is prone to a lot of errors.
So, a few things to think about: We don’t see breakdowns because of the processes Engineering follows to write the EO, or even the processes that the mechanic uses to perform the work on the aircraft. Rather, we see the breakdowns in people making typical human errors and the practice of allowing for the risk of such errors in the processes airlines follow.
So what is our million dollar fix? You have to remove the risk as much as possible.
- Automate AD tracking across all departments — if you don’t know who has the AD AND where it is in the process… that’s a problem!
- Get rid of the phone calls, emails, and manual data entry used to coordinate and communicate AD requirements.
- Don’t allow people to manually update compliance times — in today’s world, the point of compliance should be at the side of the aircraft.
In short, use technology to make your life easier!
We’ve seen over and over that the process gaps and human interfaces are the weak point in the control of ADs, so let’s remove the human from the equation as much as possible to improve AD compliance. The FAA says that when you look back at AD non-compliance, the predominant portion of error is with the human or with the hand-off from one human to the next. If you can address those errors with technology, you’ll be attacking the largest part of the problem — and will hopefully make a huge contribution towards removing AD non-compliance from the 24-hour news cycle.
And if you need intuitive, frustration-free aircraft maintenance software to help you manage those ADs, we’d be glad to help.