During a recent trip to Denver to promote our innovative approach to removing workarounds so that teams can communicate better and be more productive, I had the opportunity to meet with a old friend who works in an airport operations leadership role.
After catching up on family and career updates, the topic drifted to various airport improvements… One of those topics was the RTD (Regional Transportation District) “A” rail line that connects DEN to downtown Denver.
Early on, people would avoid the “A” line because of reliability issues. Today, people consider it good enough that they’ll use it commute to/from work at the airport.
One big issue remains, however. When the railroad and the highway intersect, the crossing guard arms that keep motorists safe aren’t working right.
What does “not working right” mean?
It turns out that there’s a 30-second federal mandate that they’re working to address. It’s a fascinating glimpse into human factors.
When the railroad crossing lights come on and those gates drop down, people wait 30 seconds for a train. If those 30 seconds pass and no train, people decide that it’s not working and drive around the arms.
The RTD is currently somewhere around 33 seconds on average, due to a couple things. First, there are a few parts where the “A” line goes to a single track. That was a cost-savings decision during the planning phase. Second, there are variations in how quickly individual drivers accelerate after passing one of those forks.
As a result, the RTD has gate arms that come down AND a human standing there with a stop sign.
What in the world does that have to do with aviation? It’s simple, really.
Humans are the weak link, every time.
What do people do when things take too long?
At an airline I worked for, the legacy maintenance software was clunky. It took too many clicks to get all the details about an aircraft. Basic stuff, too – things like the delivery date, in-service date, delivery configuration, engine thrust ratings, etc.
So, an engineer in the powerplant group maintained an Excel spreadsheet of aircraft details. Every so often the data goes into a little booklet that he prints and distributes to everyone.
As workarounds go, this isn’t too bad at first glance. Since the airline is constantly getting new aircraft, however, that booklet is stale as soon as it prints. Pocket-sized sure is convenient though, right?
Which part do you think is more compelling for busy people?
Workarounds so you can print are still workarounds
One of the challenges the line maintenance managers experienced in the airline’s non-hub maintenance bases is printing work packages for the nightly workload. The legacy maintenance software sends one page at a time to their local printer, and it takes hours to print out paperwork.
Their solution was to VPN in from home during the afternoon and start the print, so the paperwork would be ready when the third shift technicians arrived.
While a clever workaround, the problem with that approach is that those specific aircraft can still go somewhere else. Even if they do arrive, the maintenance plan isn’t set in stone. At best are reams of wasted paper after the plane lands somewhere else. At worst are the “ghost” maintenance tasks added or removed after the paperwork prints.
The guys don’t even realize it until the next morning when they close out the maintenance packages in the legacy software. “Wait, what’s this? Can we push it?” happens regularly enough. Boom! An instant maintenance-related delay on the first flight of the day, throwing the entire flight schedule for that plane into disarray.
Where have you discovered people doing workarounds because “the right way” is cumbersome, takes too long, etc?