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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Intelligence: News

FAA, Southwest Settle on $7.5-Million Fine for Maintenance Lapses

Dallas, Texas-based Southwest Airlines has reached a $7.5-million settlement with the Federal Aviation Administration over maintenance concerns identified in March 2008. The civil penalty, which will be paid in three installments, stems from FAA allegations last year that Southwest operated 46 aircraft on 59,791 flights without performing mandatory fuselage inspections for fatigue cracks. The agency had sought a $10.2-million fine.

FAA could increase the penalty to $15 million if Southwest does not comply with 13 requirements, including: raising the number of onsite technical reps for maintenance vendors from 27 to 35 within one month of the settlement; allowing FAA inspectors access to maintenance tracking and engineering records within two months; appointing a quality assurance manager that does not have certification responsibilities within three months; reviewing its required inspection item (RII) procedures to ensure FAA compliance in regards to maintenance, engineering authorizations and task cards within six months; and rewriting all FAA-approved Southwest manuals by March 2009. According to the agency, the agreement "does not prevent the FAA from taking action against Southwest on safety issues unrelated to this settlement."

Despite the fine, Fortune magazine has again placed Southwest on its list of the 50 most admired companies in the world. Southwest has made the list for 13 straight years, being named No. 7 on this year’s version. This is the first year that Fortune has combined the U.S. and international lists. Surveys from executives and boards of directors of various companies, as well as analysts from multiple industries, determine the rankings.

Flight Tests Begin For GEnx-2B Engine Variant

Now that flight-testing of its GEnx-1B is complete, GE Aviation has moved onward to evaluate another variant, the GEnx-2B, on its flying testbed starting in mid-February. The -1B powers Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, while the -2B runs on the B747-8. The GEnx-2B’s flight test program is scheduled to run through October and log about 30 flights and 200 hours flying time. Installation and testing of the two GEnx variants differ, according to John Hardell, FTB/repair station manager at GE’s flying testbed base in Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA). The -1B has two Hamilton Sundstrand variable-frequency, 250-kW starter generators to start the engine and power the hydraulic, electrical and air-condition/pressurization systems, while the -2B variant conventionally performs such functions by pulling bleed air.

"Everything worked as planned," Hardell says, regarding the GEnx-1B test program. "We have all the data needed for the engine’s certification," which is expected this summer. The GEnx-2B will follow a test routine comparable to the -1B’s. In addition to flights out of SCLA, near Edwards AFB, there will be high-altitude flying at Colorado Springs, Colo., flights under icing conditions in Seattle, Wash., and sea-level/hot-temperature flying in Yuma, Ariz. Prior to first flight, a new engine pylon had to be installed on the inward, number-two position of the portside wing on GE’s flying testbed, a heavily modified, 40-year-old B747-100 once owned by Pan Am World Airways. The wing has been beefed up to safely bear engines with up to 122,000 pounds of thrust. (Standard engines on the 747-100 produce a mere 47,000 pounds of thrust.) The flying testbed also has a small-engine position between the 747’s fuselage and the number-two pylon.

The CF34 engine — which powers Bombardier and Embraer aircraft, as well as China’s ARJ-21 regional jet — was tested in that position in 2003. It was the first engine GE flight tested after moving its 747 from Mojave, Calif., to SCLA. Hardell’s schedule shows the flying testbed will be used to evaluate modifications and upgrades to the CFM56-7A next year. — David Jensen, Editor-At-Large

Delta Technicians to Remain Without Union

As part of the ongoing merger of Delta Air Lines and Northwest, the National Mediation Board (NMB) has accepted a request from the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) to terminate its representation of Northwest mechanics and related staff. According to Delta TechOps President Tony Charaf, the move allows the combined, post-merger Delta — which has a staff of more than 6,700 maintenance technicians and related personnel — to align pay, benefits and work rules across the entire company, as well as resolve seniority questions. A transition plan calls for pre-merger Northwest technicians to move to Delta pay scales and applicable license, skill and line premiums. Union dues have been eliminated. Former Northwest technicians will be able to enroll in Delta’s profit sharing and shared rewards programs in 2009 and come under Delta’s health benefits package beginning in Jan. 2010.

Columbus Center Retrofits V2500

Pratt & Whitney’s engine center in Columbus, Ga. has installed the first International Aero Engines V2500 SelectOne engine on an Airbus A320. The upgraded engine, which replaces the V2500-A5, offers lower operating costs, reduced CO2 emissions, less noise and one percent lower fuel burn versus the A5, according to Pratt & Whitney.

US Airways flies the retrofitted aircraft, which initially started operations in Feb. 1998. The V2500-A5 accumulated more than 38,000 hours on wing and around 15,000 cycles prior to the retrofit project. The 215,000-square-foot Columbus facility has the capacity to overhaul up to 300 engines annually.

AAR Miami Repair Certificate Restored

FAA has reactivated the repair station certificate for the AAR Landing Gear Services facility in Miami following a temporary suspension in February. On Feb. 10, the agency issued an emergency order of suspension alleging that AAR did not follow guidelines in aircraft maintenance manuals "for conducting liquid penetrant exams, shot peening and cadmium plating before returning to service a variety of landing gear parts." FAA claimed AAR returned aircraft parts to service as being overhauled when they were not, and failed to perform required maintenance procedures.

A Feb. 13 consent order cancelled the emergency order, and FAA returned the repair station certificate on Feb. 20, with conditions. AAR agreed to conduct liquid penetrant inspections for Boeing landing gear going forward on top of magnetic particle inspections. The company will also re-inspect Boeing landing gear currently at the Miami facility "using the liquid penetrant inspection process before releasing it to customers." According to AAR, the suspension originates from a facility inspection in July 2008. The company says it was in the process of responding to follow-up actions identified in a Jan. 2009 letter from FAA when the agency issued the emergency order. A spokesperson at AAR declined a request to comment further on the situation, stating that the emergency order was limited to Landing Gear Services in Miami and did not affect any of the company’s 10 other FAA-certified repair stations.

Nanotubes Could Strengthen Aircraft Skins

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are employing carbon nanotubes to stitch together materials that could be used to construct aircraft skins 10 times stronger than current methods. Additionally, advanced composites reinforced with nanotubes would be more than a million times more electrically conductive, "meaning aircraft built with such materials would have greater protection against damage from lightening," says Brian Wardle, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Wardle, who spearheaded the effort to write a theoretical paper that will appear in the Journal of Composite Materials, explains that current materials are made up of layers, or plies, of carbon fibers that are held together with a polymer glue that can crack, leading the plies to separate. Past efforts to reinforce the layers by braiding, stitching or weaving the plies together have been "problematic," because the stitches or pins can damage the plies themselves. By using nanotubes to connect the plies, engineers would be placing "the strongest fibers known to humankind in the place where the composite is weakest, and where they’re needed most" Wardle says. He adds that the nanotubes should only add "a few percent" to the cost of composites "while providing substantial improvements in bulk multifunctional properties."

Improper Assignment of NAICS on Aircraft Maintenance and Repair Solicitations May be Hurting Small Businesses

In the 1930s, the U.S. Central Statistical Board established a committee to "develop a plan of classification of various types of statistical data by industries and to promote the general adoption of such classification as the standard classification of the Federal Government." The Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) emerged for use in the classification of business activity in the U.S. The SIC was used for the purpose of facilitating the collection, tabulation and analysis of data. As change occurred through the years, industries were created that didn’t exist before. Computer manufacture, web design and various activities related to the Internet are examples of industries not originally included in the SIC. In the 1980s, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) joined forces with Mexico’s INEGO and Statistics Canada to develop the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), which replaced SIC.

NAICS codes are assigned to every solicitation issued by federal government agencies to let industry know the general classification of the product or service being bought. For example, a solicitation for "maintenance and repair services, aircraft" should be classified under NAICS 488190. However, a recent U.S. government solicitation identified NAICS 336413, other aircraft parts and auxiliary equipment manufacturing. So what is the problem? NAICS 336413 is for the manufacturing of aircraft parts or auxiliary equipment and/or developing and making prototypes of parts and auxiliary equipment. The small business size for this NAICS code is 1,000 employees.

Two questions should be asked about the use of this NAICS. First, is 1,000 employees really an appropriate break point in determining a small business for aircraft component repair? Secondly, is NAICS 336413 really the appropriate code? Most small businesses have fewer than 50 employees. Using a NAICS code with a 1,000-employee ceiling puts "true" small businesses in direct competition with significantly larger businesses and doesn’t truly represent a small business set-aside. If NAICS 488190, Other Support Activities for Air Transportation, including aircraft maintenance and repair services, had been used on the solicitation mentioned above, the small business size would have been determined by revenue with a small business ceiling of $6.5 million instead of 1,000 employees. A $6.5-million revenue ceiling would have more truly reflected a small business set-aside.

The Warner-Robins Air Force Base Small Business office responded to the following question about this recent solicitation: "I noticed a Coast Guard solicitation recently for the repair of aircraft brakes where the NAICS used was 336413. It would seem more appropriate to use NAICS 488190. The difference in size standard for small businesses is huge as 336413 is 1,000 employees and 488190 is $6.5 million revenue." Answer: "You would be right. One note on the brakes case. If the repair is more of a remanufacture, then the 336413 manufacturer’s code might be more appropriate rather than the service code. Most aircraft major PDM (periodic depot maintenance) overhauls will fall under the 336 series of NAICS rather than (the 488) service code."

These comments by an Air Force Small Business office support the use of NAICS 488190 to a point, but raise another question about the use of NAICS codes. Should aircraft major periodic depot maintenance requirements be coded under NAICS 366 series or a 488 series for aircraft maintenance and repair? Which better describes the repair or overhaul of C-130 aircraft components?

There is increasing pressure on government buyers to increase their small business awards. However, is it appropriate or even ethical to use an incorrect NAICS in order to steer a solicitation toward businesses that wouldn’t be able to compete as small businesses if the correct NAICS was used? — Philip G. Bail

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