Workaround and Risk Your License by John Goglia

As much as many of us have warned of the risks of mechanic workarounds they continue. The risks are both to the safety of the aircraft being maintained and the airman’s own license.  We all know how workarounds develop - the paperwork a mechanic gets to work off of (maintenance manual procedures, job cards, service bulletins, etc.)  is incorrect or the job is very time-consuming and the mechanic develops shortcuts which are supposed to accomplish the intent of the job, if not each literal step.

These workarounds often appear to be sanctioned by the company, tacitly if not explicitly. This means that supervisors and foremen know that the time allotted for a certain job is not enough to accomplish the job – if each step is done as the paperwork requires. This is even more true when a mechanic is handed multiple jobs to do where the time to complete each job by the book is clearly not sufficient. But while a mechanic’s supervisor may know that a job is too time-consuming to be accomplished in the time allowed or that the paperwork is incorrect and a mechanic can’t literally follow all the steps in a procedure or job card, that doesn’t mean that the company will support the employee if the FAA questions the mechanic’s work.  In fact, it is most likely that the employer will adamantly state that deviations from procedures are not sanctioned at any time by the company.
 
This is the dilemma for mechanics. I have written about this a lot lately because of a case I worked on where two mechanics had their licenses revoked for allegedly falsifying records when they accomplished the intent of the job cards they were given, if not every literal step in the order in which it was listed. Part of the problem in this case was that the paperwork the mechanics were given was incorrect and part of the problem was that following every step as written would have taken hours. Although it was quite obvious to me that the mechanics did the job as they had always done it and as their supervisors knew they were doing it, when the FAA questioned their work, the airline did not accept any responsibility for what the mechanics did or how they did it.
 
In fact, an airline executive testified at the revocation hearing that the company does not condone any deviation from the job cards or maintenance procedures. These particular mechanics won their cases – the cases were dismissed as untimely so the substantive issues of how the job was performed was never decided by the NTSB - because they had a union willing to pay huge legal fees to defend them. 
 
Moral of the Story: A mechanic deviates from written procedures at his or her own risk, not to mention the potential risk to air safety. Even if you think you’re helping the company by getting a job done more quickly by using a workaround, the company will not back you up when push comes to shove with the FAA.   

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John I sort of have to agree about work around being sanctioned by the companies to get the job done faster and the aircraft out the door. However I think the work around the mechanics is doing is incorrect and certainly contrary to part 43.9 and 43.13. Companies need A&P mechanics to sign off the release for the work accomplished. As we all know our mechanic signature indicates we followed the manufactures procedures step by step.

As some point if a mechanic does a work around they are making a decision NOT to follow written instructions. This is a breakdown in the integrity of the mechanic. The mechanic has to stop giving into management to perform work a rounds to save on man hours. If the instructions/procedure are wrong the mechanic has a responsibility to inform management. Management responsibility is to get the correct deviation for the mechanic in the correct manner from the manufacture. It just upsets me the mechanic is always the one that gets burned because it’s their signature at the end of the day.

If mechanic wants the correct data then don’t give in to signing your name to something you know is not right. In every case I work on management would never stand behind a mechanic and say we agreed to a work around the liability is way too much. So in every case the mechanic is caught holding the bag when the hard questions are asked by the FAA or after the accident has occurred. Mechanics are the ones to stop this nonsense with work around. Just say NO.

There appears to be a resounding theme in your last couple of articles; “The High Price of Cooperating with FAA Investigations”, “Workarounds + AD Compliance = Revoked License” and now “Workaround and Risk Your License”, that past practices or tribal knowledge of maintenance practices were at some point acceptable or condoned by the Airline and the FAA Administrator.

An FAA Certificate is a privilege not a right. You exercise the privileges and limitations of your certificate, whether you are a mechanic, repairman, pilot, repair station, air carrier or any other certificated person; this is not a play on words, like “intent or intend”. Any mechanic that chooses to view an Instruction for the Continued Airworthiness (ICA) of the product as instructions written in double space (that is to say read between the lines) jeopardizes his certificate. You, as a mechanic, have exceeded your privileges if you choose to sign for work that you do in any manner other than prescribed in the ICAs for the product, period. It is immaterial whether the instructions describe the simple replacement of a fuel filter or the accomplishment of an Airworthiness Directive.

In larger air carriers and other maintenance entities, there are methods and procedures for correcting instructions for the continued airworthiness for the product. Albeit cumbersome and even more bureaucratic than the FAA at some organizations, these procedures for the amendment of ICAs are the only acceptable means of proceeding with the completion of the task. Important to remember is that these signed completions become the foundations for the maintenance or airworthiness release of the product. It would be interesting to see how a large maintenance entity would react to operational dispatch criteria that are impacted by inadequate instructions for the continued airworthiness for the product. When mechanics circumvent organizational processes by using workarounds, or worse using words like intent or intended, they are themselves preventing what they so often criticize; the turnaround time for improving those instructions. Once the aircraft or product has left the hangar or the gate, the only motivation, and I am sad to say this, has been removed. That’s just the reality folks.

John, you continually make reference to a case you were last involved in that dealt with a job procedure card that had somehow poorly incorporated an Airworthiness Directive resulting in incorrect job cards that jeopardized the mechanics. If this is by any chance related to your Blog Post of April 1, 2013: “The High Price of Cooperating with FAA Investigations” by John Goglia, then let me redirect your readers back to that post and the referenced NTSB hearing information in that blog. These mechanics did not have an incorrect job card. In testimony, the scope and detail of the job card was never in question, it simply stated that the mechanic remove two components, inspect the area and re-install the components. The allegation by the Administrator was that the mechanics never accomplished the work and falsified the job card accomplishment therefore intentionally falsifying maintenance records. The presiding judge at the hearing clearly recounted the facts in this matter and found no fault with the air carriers’ maintenance procedures or job cards as they related to the inspection. These mechanics signed for work that was not accomplished as restated in the NTSB appellate decision.

If you do deviate without following your employer’s procedures you not only jeopardize the air carrier with prosecution but you also risk certificate action from FAA. John stated: …that the FAA has zero tolerance for workarounds when an AD is involved…” well that is not correct. The FAA considers any deviation to be unacceptable. Signing for something you did not accomplish is falsification. Falsification has a serious effect on the integrity of the records on which the FAA’s safety oversight depends. If the reliability of these records is undermined, the FAA’s ability to promote aviation safety is compromised and will pursue the offender, as they should.

Job Procedure Cards (JPCs) are exactly that, instructions to accomplish work, no different than if you completed a task in accordance with Aircraft Maintenance Manual (AMM). From the perspective of Aircraft Maintenance Management, it is much easier to meet your maintenance program and regulatory requirements by using the JPC and here is why...

Each manufacturer of an aircraft is required to provide the operator a comprehensive set of instructions to maintain the airframes, engines, accessories and components, these are the instructions for the continued airworthiness (ICAs) for the product. These instructions must be of such quality that when the maintenance has been accomplished, the aircraft is returned to service meeting its original type design basis or as it was subsequently amended. Manufacturers provide the instructions for the continued airworthiness of their products in the form of an AMM but also offer complete and comprehensive JPCs that are grouped into periodic segments to be executed at specified intervals throughout the life cycle of the product.

Most air carriers do not purchase these JPC or maintenance program elements from the manufacturer due to cost and JPC maintenance flexibility. Instead, these air carriers employ maintenance program management departments and personnel with the necessary technical expertise to develop the JPC to meet the varied and continuously changing maintenance and regulatory requirements. The carrier’s Maintenance Program Department interfaces with other organizational elements such as Reliability, Heavy Maintenance and Line Maintenance, Inspection, Engineering, Tooling, Regulatory Compliance, Quality Assurance, Component Management and the FAA office having oversight, to develop JPCs. These JPC’s are then grouped into various elements of the aircraft’s written and approved maintenance program. JPCs allow the carrier to perform many functions including the recordation of periodic maintenance such as a Daily, Weekly or Letter Checks; specialized services such as the tracking and verification that a life limited component was replaced or that an Airworthiness Directive was accomplished.

What many mechanics do not understand is that they are part of the maintenance organization; they are the end user of the carrier’s Maintenance Program Department. The mechanic’s signature or stamp placed on that JPC becomes the air carrier’s evidence to the FAA that the maintenance, preventative maintenance, and alterations were performed in accordance with the ICAs. With this in mind, the expectation, the INTENT, is for the mechanic to accomplish and sign for the JPC as written. The completed JPC then becomes the foundation for the approval for the return to service. So the mechanics accomplishing the JPCs are relied upon by both the individual signing the airworthiness release and the pilot who will first fly the aircraft after maintenance.

A nice esoteric foundation, now to the meat of the matter, crappy JPCs or even worse, bad AMMs and how they affect the aircraft maintenance professional. In a perfect world the AMMs and or JPCs would leave little doubt as to their requirements, however ICAs are developed by people and we do make mistakes, probably more often than not. As part of the approved operations specifications and the regulations, it is the air carrier’s responsibility to maintain current instructions for the continued airworthiness of the products it maintains and operates. That means that the JPC shall reflect, with sufficient scope and detail, the instructions for the continued airworthiness of the product. The problem the end user faces when dealing with errant JPCs is how to complete the JPC and ensure the requirements have been accomplished. As part of the air carrier’s requirements to maintain current documentations, the air carrier will implement a deviation process to the documents relied upon to accomplish the required maintenance. If the mechanic discovers the card can NOT be completed as written, or the card does NOT reflect the configuration of the aircraft or other methods would provide a more expeditious and efficient method of accomplishment, the mechanic will use the carrier’s system for revising the instructions before continuing or completing the work. Remember, if you are having issues executing the ICA, others will as well.

Most air carrier’s systems handle the ICA revision process through formal documentation taking either a normal/routine or an expedited path. Established procedures will include written documentation describing the error or the necessary enhancements to the ICA. This is usually forwarded to a working lead or supervisor for concurrence. The recommended revision is then forwarded to the maintenance programs group for consideration and re-authoring of the JPC.

Expedited revisions to an ICA usually include the engineering and/or inspection departments which provide the necessary authorization to deviate from the JPC and document this deviation as part of the final record. In both instances the card will be revised, either formally in a revision to the JPC or expeditiously with an engineering authorization or inspection authorization described on the actual JPC or the Non-Routine documentation tied to the JPC. Some of these revisions can get quite creative and complicated, regardless of the legal basis that generated the JPC, you, the mechanic, can NOT on your own deviate from a JPC without the employers permission.

Regarding the FAA HotLine and what to submit, it is not my intent to discourage anyone from using the FAA HotLine however, if I may suggest, speak to your responsible FAA Official first. That would be the FAA Inspector that has the Fleet Program Manager title or the Principal Inspector responsible for your carrier’s oversight. It does not matter if the discrepant document is a carrier generated document or a manufacturer’s generated document. Present the problem to the FAA official referencing ICAs or empirical data that substantiates the discrepancy on the document. Also provide the FAA Inspector a copy of the carrier’s documentation that you submitted to the responsible individual. This part is very important and here is the reason why; by rule, the carrier is responsible for maintaining and distributing current ICAs, they often forget that revisions are part of the requirement as well. Regarding current, often times that time frame is argumentative, however, if the lack of instructions demonstrate that the airworthiness of the aircraft will be jeopardized, you will not believe how quickly the carrier will revise the document when the FAA Inspector brings it to their attention. I have seen interim hand corrected documents faxed to the mechanic while the Inspector is still on the phone with the carrier’ maintenance program management office.

The reason why I suggest that you contact the Inspector directly is that in all likelihood he will be assigned the hotline anyway, only this time without the benefit of you bending his ear and may I add establishing some credibility for future communications.

It is easy to criticize organizational weaknesses especially when attacking large organizations such as a government entity or a corporation; it is much more difficult addressing a viable corrective action process to resolve issues such as quality and comprehensive ICAs on an individual or personal level. Regardless, if you are a maintenance employee that is certificated at an air carrier or repair station and fail to comply with written instructions provided to you including the organizational revision and amendment processes for those instructions, you will not be supported by your management and have poor mitigating circumstances in an FAA Enforcement Investigation.