The Strongest Link in the Safety Chain

APA has been tracking a significant spike in safety- and maintenance-related problems in our operation. While United Airlines is currently under public and government scrutiny, it could just as easily be American Airlines. Among the problematic trends we’re seeing:

  • Tools left in wheel wells.
  • An increasing number of collisions between aircraft being tugged or towed.
  • Improperly closed out maintenance actions with repeat writeups (sometimes 20 or more in a row).
  • The removal of overnight maintenance checks unless the aircraft is written up or due scheduled maintenance.
  • Pressure to return aircraft to line service to maintain on-time performance due to a lack of spares.
  • Improperly issued Engineering Authorizations for damaged aircraft repositions.
  • The absence of proper Special Flight Permits on international maintenance ferry flights.
  • The abbreviation of Functional Check Flights when aircraft return to service after heavy maintenance or long-term storage.
  • Increased intervals between routine aircraft inspections.
  • An increasing number of items left in the safe area near jet bridges.

Remember: Don’t rush, don’t be intimidated, and don’t be pressured into doing something that doesn’t pass the “smell test.” Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it safe. Be mindful of the hazards while operating on the ramps and taxiways in congested airports staffed with inexperienced controllers and ground personnel.

Ferry flights and maintenance repositions have become especially problematic. Notably, the Flight Operations Manual, Chapter 22 under Non-Scheduled Flights, warns that “More than one quarter of turbine aircraft accidents happen during functional check, ferry and exhibition flights” (Source: SAFO 07-006). The Flight Safety Foundation echoed that statistic in an article.

The FOM is clear: Captains must comply. In instances where foreign authorities may intercede, any pilot conducting Non-Scheduled Flight Operations must be able to vouch for proper documentation, including Engineering Authorizations, the application of MELs, and the tracking of repeat write-ups/troubleshooting. In certain categories of these flights – such as those operated under a Special Flight Permit – crews must physically possess and present the required documents confirming adherence to country and ICAO procedures, including proper Overflight Authorizations.

While noncompliance in the United States presents certain risk to your career, noncompliance outside the United States presents a clear and present danger to your personal freedom. Recently, one of our crews had an in-flight emergency and recovery back into a foreign country. The foreign authorities gathered all documentation and meticulously inspected the aircraft status paperwork, interrogated the crew, and demanded they explain and justify the checklist procedures they conducted.

Whenever you encounter a safety- or maintenance-related problem, document it via an ASAP Report and Maintenance and Technical Analysis Debrief. We all understand that aviation accidents are the result of a chain of events – often a series of errors – and catching just one of those errors could prevent a tragedy. As the last link in the safety chain, our passengers and crew depend on us to be the strongest link in that chain.