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Thursday, January 1, 2004

Jackson Wins 2003 Time Out For Safety Award

Bob Howie James Careless


Derek Jackson, an inspector at Stevens Aviation's Donaldson Center facility in Greenville, South Carolina, is the winner of the Aviation Maintenance 2003 Time Out For Safety Award.

Jackson was nominated for his excellent inspection of a military Beech King Air (C-12) engine mount, where he discovered a critical area of corrosion that could have caused a catastrophic failure. The corrosion was extremely difficult to detect, and Jackson, a patient and diligent inspector, took the time and effort needed to examine the area thoroughly. Jackson's further evaluation of the engine mount revealed an area of corrosion inside the mount's structure, a fact that was only revealed during an ice-pick test of the problem area.

The Time Out For Safety Award honors people in the aircraft maintenance industry who take the time and effort needed to make sure aircraft are safe. Time Out For Safety Award nominees have safety as their highest priority and they are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure an aircraft is safe to fly, including, if necessary stopping a taxiing airplane because it has a fuel leak or not letting pressure from customers dictate compromises in safety.

Jackson, an A&P mechanic and former Navy F-14 technician, believes that inspecting aircraft is an important job that requires a great deal of care to avoid developing a complacent attitude.

"The biggest thing," he said, "is to be aware of complacency when looking at the same part over and over. A lot of guys do so much routine over the years, it just gets old. You have to take your time to do it right."

For the 2003 Time Out For Safety Award, Jackson received a check for $500 from Aviation Maintenance as well as the rest of the day off from his boss, Duane Legere, C-12 maintenance manager. "He's the best inspector we have down there," Legere commented.

Nominations for the 2004 Time Out For Safety Awards begin January 1. For 2004, there will be two awards, the Time Out For Safety–Mechanic Award and the Time Out For Safety–Manager Award.

The Mechanic Award honors a mechanic for a specific act of maintenance safety that meets the high standards set by the Time Out For Safety Award.

The Manager Award will honor an aviation maintenance manager who exhibits the Time Out For Safety standards calling for dedication to safety while balancing the challenge of getting the work delivered on time, including treating employees with respect and dignity, customers with excellent service, and managing the all-important financial bottom line.

For nomination forms for the 2004 Time Out For Safety Awards, see www.aviationmx.com.



Inflight Breakup T-34 Was Due for Wing Modification


A Beech T-34 trainer that shed a wing during a training flight in Texas November 19, 2003 was scheduled to undergo a spar modification designed to strengthen the airplane's wing.

Houston-based Texas Air Aces founder and president Don Wylie, 64, a decorated Air Force combat veteran, and William� Eisenhauer, Jr., 39, of Centerville, Ohio were killed during what a Texas Air Aces spokesman described as "upset recovery training" over Lake Conroe just north of Houston.

During the flight, the T-34's right wing separated from the aircraft, coming to rest about a mile from where the fuselage carrying Wylie and Eisenhauer impacted the ground just a few miles north of the city of Montgomery. No one on the ground was injured, and investigators have speculated that metal fatigue may have contributed to the wing coming off.

The break-up was nearly identical to the April 1999 crash in Rydal, Georgia that killed an employee of Skywarriors, a mock aerial combat company, and a customer.

Questions about why the accident airplane–N44KK–was in the air in the first place are high on investigators' priority lists.

The spar problem leading to the possibility of inflight wing separations has been well-documented since the 1999 crash and has been the subject of an FAA airworthiness directive, multiple FAA special airworthiness information bulletins, a "mandatory" service bulletin from Raytheon Aircraft, and the focus of four FAA-sanctioned alternative means of compliance (AMOC) issued since 1999. These documents provide a means to ensure T-34 spar safety and ultimately modify the spars with a doubler plate or replace the spars with new Beech Baron units. Spars with existing cracks cannot be modified and must be replaced.

According to Tim Roehl of General Aviation Modifications in Ada, Oklahome, a Texas Air Aces mechanic who identified himself as "Ignacio" contacted GAMI on October 31–20 days before the fatal flight–to say Texas Air Aces had two airplanes that needed to be scheduled for GAMI's doubler-plate AMOC "as soon as possible."

Roehl said "Ignacio" specifically mentioned N44KK as well as another T-34, N34BA, as the airplanes needing the AMOCs, saying that "Ignacio" specifically said N44KK had accumulated 220 hours since the AD was first issued, seemingly outside the FAA's 200-hour grace period for compliance.

Roehl said he referred "Ignacio" to Jetsun Aviation in Sioux City, Iowa, where GAMI's doubler-plate AMOC could be performed because of the current workload at GAMI's shop.

On November 7, 2003, a man identified as Chuck Bonds, reportedly Texas Air Aces's director of maintenance, contacted Jetsun Aviation by telephone to see about scheduling the AMOC, according to Jetsun's Tom Leif.

Leif recalled that Bonds specifically said he needed to send N44KK–the accident airplane–and N34BA to Sioux City for the AMOC, asking how long the work would take.

"I told him [Bonds] it would take about three weeks and he said he would go ahead and send N34BA to Sioux City the next day and then send N44KK to us about the time N34BA was coming out of the shop," Leif said. "I don't know how the decision was made to send N34BA instead of N44KK; [I] guess it was just what they decided to do."

Leif said N34BA–a former Skywarriors airframe acquired by Texas Air Aces between February and May, 2003–did not arrive in Sioux City until November 11, and an inspection of N34BA's wing connections, spars, and bath tub fittings–all components of the wing attachment structure–revealed cracks in the spar end caps of the right wing, a finding that immediately disqualified N34BA from the AMOC. The only other option to repair N34BA would be wing spar replacement.

"It's still sitting here and they can get a one-time ferry permit to take it wherever they want–if they can find someone to fly it out of here," said Leif, adding it will cost about $40,000 to replace the spars.

Although pricey, replacing the wing spars of aging T-34 aircraft–1,400 of which were built in the 1950s for Navy and Air Force flight training–permanently addresses the airworthiness directive, according to the FAA.

Texas Air Aces, in claims printed on the company's Aviation Safety Training web page as well as in materials sent out by the company to potential customers, says that "Aviation Safety Training operates six T-34 aircraft with updated engines and new Baron wing spars."

NTSB Investigator Alex Lemisko said on November 24, 2003 that N44KK, the airplane that crashed, "was not fitted with Baron spars and [there is] no indication of [an] AMOC."

Lemisko's statement is backed up by the information that "Ignacio" and Bonds were seeking to have the GAMI AMOC, which included installation of a doubler plate, not spars, performed as much as nearly three weeks before the accident; a request they would not have made if the Baron spars had been installed because that would have eliminated the need for the AMOC.

Someone from Texas Air Aces reportedly contacted the Wichita, Kansas FAA office to determine whether N44KK could continue to be legally flown outside the grace period for modification compliance, but it is not known what was told, if anything, to Texas Air Aces by the Wichita FAA office in that regard.

John Loomis, an FAA aviation maintenance inspector in the Houston Flight Standards District Office, said he had "a stack about three feet high on his desk" of maintenance records from Texas Air Aces including logbooks from N44KK, but noted, "it's going to take me about another three weeks to really go through them and see what we've got."

Asked if he had come across any recent logbook entries that might indicate what, if anything, Texas Air Aces had been told by the Wichita office of the FAA, Loomis said he was looking at all logbook entries, reiterating it would be a few weeks before he could make any statement.



Engine Swapping Postpones Overhauls


Engine swapping: it is the practice of replacing commercial aircraft engines due for overhaul with stored engines that have serviceable life left. Removed from stored aircraft–of which there are hundreds, thanks to the recent years' travel collapse–these engines typically have at least 1,800 cycles of life left.

These days, engine swapping is popular among the world's airlines. The reason is money: for $10,000 or less, a stored CFM56 engine can be leased, shipped from storage, and installed in an active-duty Boeing 737-300 in just a few days' time. In contrast, overhauling a CFM56 can cost up to $1.8 million and take three to four months.

"In the short term, engine swapping is a real cash saver for airlines," said Andreas Krug, project manager for the phaseout of aircraft at Lufthansa Technik. "In today's market, it is far cheaper to lease an engine with some life left in it than to overhaul an engine that's reached the end of its service cycle."

In the long term, engine swapping could be disastrous for airlines and MROs. This is because the supply of engines with life left isn't unlimited. When the supply runs out, airlines will somehow have to find the millions needed to do postponed overhauls. Meanwhile, the MROs who survived the current engine swapping-driven decline in overhaul business will be hard-pressed to keep up.

Engine swapping is a bit like unpleasant personal habits: most people have them, but few will ever admit it in public. As a result, it is difficult to get airlines to talk about their engine swapping activities. The attitudes encountered by Aviation Maintenance were aptly summed up by Northwest Airlines spokesperson Mary Stanik. "It is something that we do," she wrote in response to AM's request for information, "but we cannot entertain an interview on the subject." Based on what we've been told by industry sources,� United Airlines and American Airlines also engage in engine swapping.

One company that does talk candidly about engine swapping is Germany's Lufthansa Technik, which services airplanes for Lufthansa and more over 300 other airlines.

"We are using stored engines to save costs on overhauls," said Andreas Krug. "This is not unique: any airline who stores aircraft will start cannibalizing the aircraft. As well, cannibalization is often the only way we can get parts quickly for out-of-production aircraft, such as the B737-300 and the B737-500."

He took pains to point out that each stored engine undergoes a C-Check and a thorough borescope inspection before being re-certified.

"A lot of third-party airlines come to LHT looking for engines with approximately 1,800 cycles left on them that they can lease from us," Krug added. "We try to arrange the leases so that they leave their original engines with us for long-term overhaul. Once the leased engines have used up their cycles, the overhauled engines are ready to be reinstalled."

The best place to find engines are where you can find stored aircraft. For both North American and European carriers, a prime storage area is the bone-dry, relatively stable (in weather terms) southern California desert.

In this region, the two primary storage bases for commercial aircraft are the Southern California Logistics Airport (formerly George Air Force base until it was decommissioned) in Victorville and the Mojave Airport in Mojave. "There are several companies in both Mojave and Victorville that store aircraft for airlines," noted GE Aircraft Engines spokesperson Jim Stump. "They do remove engines and send some of them back to the airlines. Then the airlines do what they want to do with them as long as it complies with their current approved maintenance plans."

Located an hour's drive northwest of Los Angeles, SCLA is home to a wealth of stored aircraft, including United 727-200s and 737-200s. "If I look out my window right now, I can see about 200 aircraft on the tarmac," said Jim Worsham, the SCLA's director of business development and aviation marketing. "Many do not have engines on them."

Southern California Aviation (owned by The Aviation Assurance Group and Pratt & Whitney) is the major maintenance provider at SCLA. In fact, it is the airport's largest employer, on a campus shared with Boeing, GE, and Pratt & Whitney.

"We store, service, and ship many different models of Pratt & Whitney's commercial aircraft engines," said Steve White, Southern California Aviation's vice president of sales and marketing. "The engine-changing business engages a good deal of our labor force on a daily basis." There is enough engine change activity to make one believe that there just might be an engine-stand shortage, he added. "As a result, we've taken to storing limited serviceable and unserviceable commercial aircraft engines in our storage facilities, here at SCLA."

At Mojave Airport, Avtel Services includes engine storage and swapping among its many MRO activities. It needs to capitalize on this market, because although "the maintenance business has picked up somewhat, it is nowhere near its original level prior to September 11," said Justin Loucks, Avtel's executive vice president and general manager.

Like SCA and LHT, Avtel is busy removing, storing, and shipping engines for swapping. Of course, moving so many engines around comes with unique challenges, which can occasionally hit home. For instance, "one airline went bankrupt and left us with 44 airplanes belonging to 17 different lease companies," Loucks said. "Getting the original engines onto the right aircraft required the movement of almost 200 different units."

Thanks to their proximity to stored aircraft, Southern California Aviation's and Avtel's MRO operations are profiting from the engine-swapping trend. So is Lufthansa Technik, thanks to its large client base and ability to link engine swapping with future overhaul contracts.

However, the same isn't true for MROs without engines at hand. All they can do is to make do with whatever overhaul work comes their way, tighten their belts, and attempt to offset losses by diversifying into other product/service areas.

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