Saturday, December 1, 2007
Only So Lucky
I enjoyed reading your article "Two Kinds of People" (see AM, September 2007, page 4). The issue of duty time for mechanics is something I have thought about a lot in the last few years. I have been a mechanic/inspector working in the aviation industry for about 20 years now. I was always employed by government contractors or worked for the majors in one form or another. "Duty time" was never an issue. Most government jobs were regulated and the major airlines have the protection of the union. It wasn’t until I began working in a corporate/business 135 environment that I completely went insane. We had 8 Lear’s and 3 turbine Helicopters. I was the Assistant to the DOM and I had two Mechanics. It was brutal to say the least. The schedule ran 24/7 and we lived it. My family and friends didn’t quite understand why anyone would put themselves through it. Many nights/days I slept in the pilot’s lounge after working so long I was afraid to make the 45 minute drive home. Those brief periods of "microsleeps" were a daily occurrence. I would ask my self many times why? The aviation industry is up and down in this area of Florida, and after losing my job with one of the majors I worried what would happen. The upside to all this was the incredible experience I received. I can fix a Lear in my sleep. (And have on occasion!) Sad to say the owner/operator only cared about the availability of the fleet, so if the "help" was tired that was no excuse. It’s beat into every mech how that aviation is a dangerous business and how important it is to be safe. But under the "real world" pressures sometimes your perspective gets warped. I have worked when I shouldn’t have. I have made mistakes. I am thankful I’ve never hurt anyone. I have to say the pay was incredible, but if you got called out or an aircraft was broke, (which was ALWAYS the case), you went to work or they would let you know in some form or another that "mech’s were standing in line" for your spot. It’s a fact that after a 24-hour "duty" day, you don’t quite care as much as you did before you started. The human factor is a dangerous thing. I know part of the reason I did it was because I love aviation and it feels good to be able to be the Hero and be able to fix it all. I used to brag about myself and my mechs, saying we were machines and we could fix anything. Our slogan was, "I’ll sleep when I’m dead" and "Sleep is over-rated." Dangerous, dangerous John Wayne attitudes. I could bore you for hours with scary stories. After years, I finally had enough and worried that one day my luck might run out. I have a normal aviation job now, if there is such a thing. I once asked the FAA during a question and answer session while renewing my IA, "Why don’t mechanics have duty time requirements?" The answer was, "No aircraft incident or accident was ever directly related to mechanic fatigue." Sounds to me like someone might be too tired and overworked to investigate.
Name and address withheld
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