Outsourcing Aviation Maintenance: Human Factors Implications, Specifically for Personnel and Communications.

The introduction of outsourcing maintenance

The outsourcing of air transport category maintenance has significantly increased in the past ten years, especially, airlines prefer to outsource their part of aircraft maintenance to third party vendors in order to reduce costs. Today, aircraft operators may not only choose their 3rd party maintenance partners in their own country, but also may outsource worldwide (Hoppe, 2011). The market in worldwide commercial maintenance outsourcing is huge. Al-kaabi, Potter and Naim (2007) pointed out that the global commercial airline outsourcing would increase up to 65 per cent of total budget of aircraft MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) tasks by 2010.

The most frequently tasks of maintenance outsourcing involve in four parts: engine, component, airframe and line (Sunder & Dawna, 2008); and specific include (Goldsby & Watson, (n.d.), p. 3)

• Major overhaul (D checks)
• Major periodic maintenance (C checks)
• Major modifications and/or retrofits (passenger to cargo conversions and installation of noise reduction “hush” kits).
• Sale/lease preparation and lease return and configuration changes
• Interior refurbishment, damage repairs (ground damage), out of phase major component changes (landing gear, etc.)
• Exterior painting

Why airlines would like to outsource their aircraft maintenance

• Outsourcing MRO may relief airlines from huge labour costs associated with airlines maintenance (Dionisio,2009). Outsourcing is an effective way of minimizing the number of mechanics who sign in long term contract with airlines.

• Outsourcing maintenance may reduce the airline’s costs on training and purchase of equipment tools, especially for the smaller ‘new entrants’ which is impossible to establish an efficient maintenance department with full equipment and full staff (Czepiel, 2003).

• Outsourcing maintenance may benefit airlines from fuel cost saving. Worldwide outsourcing maintenance available enable airlines to conduct maintenance where and when it is needed. Today, airlines do not need their aircrafts fly back to their own hub for maintenance, the aircraft can be serviced at any airport worldwide for reasonable costs (Dionisio, 2009).

• Outsourcing maintenance in some extent may provide better operational consequences of aircraft maintenance than airline does. As third party maintenance have large range and capacities, and depth of experiences on aircraft maintenance, hence they not only may give airline very professional services, but also give airline short aircraft turnaround time (high punctuality) so as to eliminate passenger inconvenience due to technical irregularities (Al-kaabi et al, 2007).

Human factors in outsourcing maintenance

Although outsourcing maintenance is a useful alternative to airline’s internal provision of non-core functions, the controversy between business and academia about benefits and risks related with outsourcing has been increased in recent years, especially in human factors perspectives.

Personnel

Due to the growth of outsourcing maintenance market and the shortage of qualified labour, this has caused some of repair stations to rely on temporary and un-certificated mechanics (Czpiel, 2003).

As there is a shortage of qualified personnel and increasing workload in outsourcing maintenance, some of repair stations hence employ temporary and un-certificated mechanics. Czpiel (2003) reported that the majority of mechanics worked in third party repair stations are the experts of whom only half acquired ‘Airframe and Powerplant Certificate’ (A&P). Those un-certificated mechanic may adversely affect aviation safety.

Besides, there is a large amount of temporary workers working in third part repair stations. Those temporary workers shift from one repair station to another repair station in order to meet their peak workload. However, those temporary workers have to learn new set of procedures tasks every time when they move to a new organisation; this may potentially cause error (Dobbs, 2009).

Communication:

The information and documentation used for interaction between ATM (the aviation maintenance technician) at repair station and many airline customers has become a significant problem, which may cause potential communication error (Dobbs, 2009).

For example, the in-house maintenance just needs deal with aircraft itself and a single management (its own airline organisation) and a single regulatory agency, e.g. Federal Aviation Administration –FAA, (See the Figure 1a). However, the aviation maintenance technician (AMT) at third party repair station not only has to deal with its own management of repair station, but also with many airline customers as well as with two sites of the FAA regulators, where one site of FAA regulator works at airline, and another site of regulators works at repair station. (See the Figure 1b) (Drury, Guy & Wenner, 2010). In addition to the General Maintenance Manual (GMM) that used for repair station, each of airlines has its own GMM. Therefore, the AMTs at repair station must switch to work with differently designed documents, e.g., task cards, and non-routine repair reports with different layout, levels of details, and flow of procedures, etc. (Dobbs, 2009). Drury (2010) points out that “any additional interactions means, in human fators terms, additional communication error potential” (et al, p.127)

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FIGURE 1 (a) Model of in-house repair and (b) Third-party repair. Note. RS= repair station; QA= quality assurance; QC= quality control; AMT= aviation maintenance technician; PMI= principal maintenance inspector; CMO= certificate management office; FSDO= flight standards district office (Drury et al, 2010, p.128).

Solutions

• In order to ensure that safety can be maintained across the whole air transport industry, both air carrier and regulatory agency (e.g. FAA) need improve their oversight on the third party repair station, specifically in personnel component, e.g. qualifications of ATMs, and turnover of labour, etc.

• To minimize the procedure error, repair stations need strength their in-house training programmes, especially for temporary ATMs.

• Repair station need improve their documentation procedure, Drury (et al, 2010) point out that “well-designed procedure documentation greatly reduced comprehension errors (p.141)”

• In order to minimize the potential for communication error when using different task cards and GMMs, repair station need keep specific teams of ATMs or inspectors devote to ONE airline; it also can help those teams of ATMs to build up good working relationship with their airline customers (Drury et al, 2010). Besides, for better communication, air carrier also need appoint on-site personnel to conduct inspection at repair station.

• The third party repair station need develop the human factors mechanisms in their error control systems. Although most of repair stations have their own traditional systems of quality control which can delete, investigate and mitigate error, these quality control systems do not include the specific part of human factors. Therefore, better developing in human error mechanisms at repair station is very necessary if progress is to be made in error control (Drury et al, 2010).

Reference

  • Al-kaabi, H., Potter, A., & Naim, M. (2007). An outsourcing decision model for airlines' MRO activities. Journal of Quality in Maintenance Engineering, 13(3). 217-227. Retrieved from the Google Scholar: http://scholar.google.co.nz/scholar
  • Czepiel, E. (2003). Practice and perspective in outsourcing aircraft maintenance. U.S. Department of Transportation - Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved from the Google: http://www.google.co.nz
  • Dionisio, A. N. (2009). Air carriers outsourcing: Pros and Cons. Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Retrieved from the Google Scholar: http://scholar.google.co.nz/scholar
  • Drury, C. G., Guy, K. P., & Wenner, C.A. (2010). Outsourcing aviation maintenance: Human factors implications, specifically for communications. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 20(2). 124-143. Retrieved from the Google Scholar: http://scholar.google.co.nz/scholar
  • Goldsby, R. P., & Watson, J. (n.d.). Chapter Three: Improving operations and oversight of contract maintenance. Retrieved from the Google Scholar: http://scholar.google.co.nz/scholar
  • Sunder, R., & Dawna, r. (2008). Core competencies, competitive advantage, and outsourcing in the US airline industry. International Journal of Strategic Management, 8(2). Retrieved from the Google Scholar: http://scholar.google.co.nz/scholar

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