Airliner Repair, 24/7
Boeing's traveling fix-it team has one goal: Get it airborne.
- By Stephen Joiner
- Air & Space magazine, November 2008
Rick Turnbaugh / Boeing Creative Services
(Page 2 of 6)
And increasingly they are. As airlines downsize workforces, a busted airplane far from its corporate hub may not be swarmed by a phalanx of mechanics in company jumpsuits. Sometimes, says Rund, “There’s one avionics guy with a screwdriver.”
Owners of damaged airliners occasionally call with a one-item wish list. “They just want to know if they can fly the plane without doing anything,” Rund says. He cites an airline maintenance director pressing for flight approval after sustaining a hammering in a hailstorm. Boeing engineers determined that wing components were damaged beyond limits. Ten minutes of a carefully worded reality check, plus an offer to rush replacement parts to the site, persuaded the impatient carrier to fix instead of fly. “Part of our job is to be the voice of reason,” Rund says.
Incident reports advance to the center’s resident engineers. With broad experience across the aircraft types in Boeing’s fleet, these frontline troubleshooters huddle to prescribe the most immediate relief. In cases of structural damage, which make up 60 percent of the calls, the solution usually involves collaboration with specialized engineers elsewhere in the company—what Rund terms “the brain surgeons.”
“We get the customer on the line, we get the brain surgeons of Boeing on the line, and we sit in a collaboration room and videoconference,” he says. Plasma screens with smart boards facilitate sketches on digitized blueprints and photos. By now, an AOG survey team in Washington State has been alerted and is standing by. After each engineer confirms his understanding of the damage and votes a course of action, the plan is presented to the airline.
Order is supplanting chaos. Just getting the aircraft into Boeing hands has a therapeutic effect on stressed-out airline execs. It’s also a healthy antidote to denial when damage is severe. “By this point, in most cases the airline recognizes that— and will tell us—‘This is beyond our capabilities,’ ” Rund says. “Then it’s time to get Jim’s team involved.”
“This, By Far, is the best job in Boeing,” AOG mechanic Bernie Dalien shouts over rivet guns and rock ’n’ roll. “The boring, the mundane, the everyday thing—that’s not our gig.”
We’re in an enormous halogen-lit hangar in Western Europe, standing between two separated segments of a 767. Earsplitting music thunders from an iPod boom-box. Widebody X is the one recently spindled on the fence.
As the last of its deplaned passengers straggled to their destinations, the AOG survey team was en route. The four-member first wave is often in the air from Seattle on just four hours’ notice. Says Paul Amrine, quality assurance supervisor on this project, “Sometimes we go to work in the morning and end up having to ask our wives to bring us a packed suitcase.” Amrine himself arrived at the hangar after back-to-back surveys of incidents in Shannon, Ireland, and Taipei, Taiwan. The team appraises the aircraft, documenting what Boeing calls “discrepancies” (a torn-off wing, for example). Man-hours, parts and resources, and a time-flow to a rock-hard completion date are calculated. Back in Everett, a contract is drawn up that includes a firm price. “And the customer either says yea or nay,” Amrine says. In the death match of airline competition, the yeas usually have it.