Gotta Get A “Handle” On My Time

Ahhh, it’s just never fast enough, is it?  Everything in our aircraft inspections are pretty much “guaranteed” from a time standpoint, meaning that the customer will get that particular job done for a guaranteed rate, regardless of how long it takes us to accomplish it.  See, the company has collected enough data on how long it takes to do a certain job on a certain airframe over the course of many inspections, and they can somewhat confidently set a “guaranteed” time.  Then, of course, it’s up to us to meet that deadline, since if we take longer than the guaranteed time, the company effectively loses money on the job.

I was at work a couple of days ago when an unfamiliar squawk came up  (a discrepancy that someone can write up when something is damaged, needs adjustment, or just isn’t quite right).  During the aircraft’s inspection, we (the maintenance team) found a severely worn part inside the passenger’s entry door, underneath the stairs.  My task was to go in and replace the part.  Sounds easy enough, right?  It was–until I assessed the door handle mechanism…I tell you, whoever designed that mechanical joy was surely angry at a mechanic when he designed it.

So I collected all of the things I’d need for the job–my toolbox full of tools (a big, black, rolling cabinet deal), of course, the paper squawk to “clock on” to, and the appropriate maintenance manual references.  I stared at the paperwork, looked over the picture, and  actuated the door handle about twelve times before I could see how the whole sadistic system worked.  Everything was connected to everything else, and because of the various springs in there, everything was under pressure or tension in some way.  Picture trying to move the hour hand on a clock without disturbing the minute hand.

I finally nailed down a plan for the most likely path I would take to get this particular part (which was literally buried in the door) out of the system, and chased it.  Since I’d never had to get that deep in a Learjet 45 Lower Cabin Entry Door before, my mind was flying, keeping abreast of all that was happening–“okay, when I pull this bolt, I’ll have to contend with this spring here…how will I know what position this was in?  I better mark it…but how can I make sure the bolts don’t get mixed up?  Are they all the same length?”–these were the things I was saying to myself.  A system like this is extremely easy to throw out of adjustment (or “rig”), and had I not noted the positions of many of these parts, I’d have probably made one or two mistakes and cost extra, wasted time finding where they were and fixing it.

Everything went according to plan, and I kept the door in rig, and got her outfitted with brand new parts.  She worked like a champ when I was done with her, and she worked the very first time.  (Everything about an airplane is a “she” for some reason…I couldn’t tell you why.)  Trouble was, I’d taken two full hours longer than what was guaranteed on the work order.  The company basically lost money on me that time, but not for lack of trying–the next time I do that job I’ll be probably twice as fast with it.  That kind of thing is inherent in learning new things–once you learn them, you can do them more and more efficiently.

I’m not too hurt by the criticism; I figure it comes with the territory.  After all, I don’t get any extra money when I do a job in only half the time, so all I can do is keep refining my “best,” and keep doing it, and chalk it up to being an hourly employee.

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