Keeping Air and Marine Operations aircraft safely in the air begins on the ground. AMO’s maintenance contractors service 225 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. They coordinate repairs, perform inspections and follow day-to-day upkeep with an on-site aviation maintenance officer.
Clearly, a lot of servicing is taking place throughout AMO’s 36 locations conducting air operations. To ensure the work is being done right and aircraft are maintained according to the contract, a unit maintenance inspection program was launched in July 2014. It’s carried out by a five-member team of AMO and contractor experts who inspect all locations every two years.
"Prior to the program, the contractors were performing self-inspections," said Don Sperling, AMO’s director of standardization and evaluation. "The site inspections focus on contract compliance."
The team has abundant aviation experience and contract expertise. Four members hold both A & P (airframe and power plant) certificates and Federal Aviation Administration authorizations to inspect aircraft and perform or supervise maintenance. To provide an unbiased, independent assessment, contractors on the inspection team are not from the same company as the contractors they evaluate.
During the three-day inspections the team probes for compliance with federal regulations, contractor policies and AMO requirements. They peruse records, trace repairs, ensure documents are current and query technicians. Program management, logistics, quality control and safety are also evaluated. Findings and recommendations are then reported to AMO and contractor managers.
With 28 inspections since the program began, the team keeps up an ambitious goal of an audit every other week. Locations slated for inspection are given a 60-day notice to explain the procedures and point out what will be evaluated, so "there are no surprises," explained John Weicht, unit maintenance inspection program manager and team leader.
So far, the audits haven’t revealed any "show stoppers," as he describes big problems. But they have shown where improvements are needed, such as new forms for smoother administration and tool control along with eliminating outdated publications and practices.
Overall, the team promotes standards, the core of AMO’s maintenance program. Having each job and task completed and documented alike throughout CBP locations—standardization—accomplishes multiple goals. It ensures safety, proves FAA requirements are met and work is completed according to AMO contracts. Standardization requires discrepancies and corrective actions to be properly recorded, allowing evaluators to detect trends. Most importantly, it ensures aircraft are well maintained and aircrews have the assurance of flying a reliable aircraft, said Weicht.
Whenever standard procedures are overlooked, safety is compromised and money and time are wasted. Installing the wrong parts or the right parts installed incorrectly or using parts beyond their limits are typical examples. Tools left around engines and flight controls as well as incorrect or incomplete records are more examples, he pointed out.
During inspections, minor flaws are corrected on the spot. But significant findings are quickly shared with all AMO air branches and units by email. These alerts allow locations to check their aircraft and immediately fix the problem before the team visits. That strategy enables sites to continually improve maintenance well before an audit is pending, said Sperling.
While the inspection team confirms if aircraft maintenance is performed the same way, the team also follows its own standard procedures to assure every location receives an identical and evenhanded review. To accomplish that, the directorate of standardization and evaluation publishes a comprehensive checklist that guides the team through every detail of an inspection. It also allows maintenance contractors and management to continually assess their own operations.
A detailed look
Evaluations are thorough. A sample of previous audits provides some examples.
The team checks if technicians are using FAA-approved parts with documentation that traces their origin. They will look for a library of current manuals, technical publications and airworthiness directives for all aircraft and equipment. Airworthiness directives, or ADs, are notices issued by the FAA requiring inspections or part replacements at certain times to correct a hazardous condition. ADs help keep aircraft safe and airworthy, meaning legal to fly.
The team checks for records confirming that technicians are receiving training in everything from proper aircraft fueling to safely towing aircraft to correctly handling hazardous materials. It reviews records showing the contractor inspects aircraft for corrosion and repairs any damage according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Inspections and maintenance must be recorded in the aircraft logbooks. Airframes, engines and propellers each have logbooks and the team reviews them all. The team checks if the contractor maintains an oil analysis program.
An oil analysis looks for metal particles in oil taken from the aircraft’s engine. Metal particles reveal damage that can lead to engine failure.
Confirming documents and tags proving that life rafts, survival kits, life vests and air bottles that allow aircrews to breathe after a water crash have been regularly inspected, is also part of the audit.
In all, 227 items are reviewed. But the checklist isn’t rigid. Updates are foreseen to make sure items remain relevant as the program grows, said Sperling.
As the program evolves, the directorate plans to automate the audits. Inspectors will enter their findings onto a tablet while conducting evaluations, which instantly formats a final report of their findings and recommendations.
Automation will allow anyone with access to AMO’s logistics and maintenance website to quickly find specific items, search for trends and detect shortcomings, explained Sperling.
AMO’s unit maintenance program is more than just audits. The program is building a stronger partnership with AMO’s maintenance contractors by producing a team environment where standardization, safety and excellence are shared goals, noted Director Sperling.
"Maintaining a standard ultimately guarantees the delivery of safe and airworthy aircraft to our pilots in order to perform CBP’s mission of safeguarding America’s borders," he said.