Maintenance conference focuses on ‘soft’ skills

 - April 30, 2007, 11:42 AM

Recognizing the managerial potential of the maintenance technician was among the issues under discussion at the 16th annual NBAA Maintenance Management Conference, held this year in Dallas. Some 148 registrants, 26 exhibitors and 52 exhibitor staff members were on hand for the event, the theme of which was “learn from the past; live for the present; plan for the future.”

The goal of the association’s maintenance management committee is to enhance aviation maintenance management knowledge in areas tested by the organization’s Corporate Aviation Management (CAM) certificate program. NBAA took the opportunity to present a CAM certificate to Brian Hazen, a former director of aviation and director of maintenance, to underscore the point that the program is for all aviation professionals, not just flight crewmembers.

Hazen said it took him about five months of studying to prepare for the test but added, “I’ve been in the business about 30 years, and the test is really about your entire career.” Hazen, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., is in a transition period, having lost his position as director of aviation and director of maintenance.

“My company was bought out, and the flight department took a hit,” he told AIN. “Having the CAM [certificate] will help my search with some companies and won’t matter to others, but in general I believe the program is a huge turn for the maintenance side of the business.”

While the CAM program is for the industry as a whole, it is a boon to the maintenance sector because for the first time maintenance personnel are officially recognized for their managerial ability. With a few exceptions, flight departments traditionally have been managed by pilots, but Hazen pointed out the logic of looking to the maintenance professional to fill the top spot.

“Maintenance people are on the ground and close to home 24 hours a day,” he said. “When the flight department manager comes out of maintenance you don’t have to worry about waiting for a flight crew to get back before you can do flight department business,” he said.

The conference also qualifies for credit toward the Professional Development Program (PDP) and is approved as an FAA IA renewal course. Two additional PDP courses were offered the day after the conference: “Vendor Management,” presented by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and the newly approved “NBAA Maintenance Manual Workshop,” presented by Len Beauchemin.

J.D. McHenry, president of Global Jet Services, presented an abbreviated version of his five-day Aviation Interpersonal Maintenance Management course. His “Dynamic leadership for today” presentation was divided into three sections over two days.

McHenry tackled thorny issues about mechanics’ public and self image. “Aviation technicians as a whole are not sensitive enough about their image or making a good impression,” he told the group. “As we look at the aviation industry’s requirements, the aviation technician’s skill level is so high and so demanding that there are almost no other professions that come close to it.”

He spent considerable time explaining how to improve one’s image and stature in the aviation community. He addressed such issues as building self-esteem, time management and organizational skills, communication and teamwork.

 “Cinderella in the Workplace-Revisited,” by Carmen Cameron of Richardson Management, looked at issues of concern to maintenance technicians. “Historically, flight departments have supported flight crew human factors training,” she said. “But I would suggest the reason may be simply that most maintenance department managers just haven’t asked for what they need.”

Cameron said research shows 70 percent of a maintenance manager’s time is spent interacting with people, and not technology. “The single most important factor in determining the quality of teamwork is the way in which a group is led. It is critical to develop management practices that facilitate a healthy, cooperative work environment.” Essential to the development of such an environment are self-awareness; follow through; getting to know and respect people; setting clear, realistic goals and objectives; allowing people to be accountable for their work; providing the equipment and materials needed; having coherent values and practices; recognizing and rewarding good work; and offering the opportunity for professional development both in technical and people skills.

Safety Isn’t the Only Factor

Michael Barr, a safety management systems (SMS) expert and the former director of the University of Southern California’s Aviation Safety Program, quoted John Lauber, vice president of Airbus, who said several years ago, “The number one function of any company is business success. Safety supports that idea. In other words, safety is not first.”

In his presentation, “SMS: A Partnership with Organizational Units,” Barr said he was happy someone finally told the truth about safety. “If safety were number one we’d just stop flying. It’s time someone tells it like it is: business is number one, and safety is the cement that holds all the facets together.”

Barr defined safety as a state in which risk is reduced to an acceptable level through a continuing process of hazard identification and risk management. He outlined two fundamental rules regarding safety: it is impossible to change human nature but possible to change systems in which a human performs, and the need for change must be supported by data.

Barr emphasized that institutional safety is based on a culture in which everyone feels responsible for reporting problems and comfortable doing so. “A blame culture and an open reporting culture cannot coexist,” he said. Barr shared a sample company policy he created about blame-free reporting (see box at left).

Kevin Smith, chief of aircraft maintenance for Progress Energy Corporate Flight operations, served as chairman of the 2007 maintenance management committee. John Solito, chairman of next year’s NBAA MMC committee, is director of aviation maintenance for Waddell & Reed Financial. “This year’s conference has been successful. How do we top it next year?” Solito said the committee is looking for a venue in the Southeast. “Daytona sometime in early May looks promising,” he said.

Committee Builds on Success of Tracs Program

Jim Janaitis, chairman of NBAA’s maintenance committee, told the group that the committee consists of 33 members with 10 subcommittees dedicated to improving the profession of aircraft maintenance. Mark Dietrich, aviation manager for Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards and Winery, brought the group up to date on the association’s maintenance Technical Reward and Career Scholarship (Tracs) subcommittee.
One of the major objectives of the subcommittee is retention and recruitment, and that goal led to the technical reward and career scholarship program, now in its second year.

“In an effort to try to enhance retention and recruitment we came up with the idea of exposing individuals to business aviation training early in their career. We received a tremendous response from the OEMs and training providers who are giving away maintenance initial training, PDP training, avionics-based training and training in just about all technical disciplines,” Dietrich said.

“We’d really like to thank Bombardier Aerospace, Cessna Aircraft, CornerStone Strategies, FlightSafety International, GE Engines, Global Jet Services, Gulfstream Aerospace, Honeywell, Rolls-Royce and Sino Swearingen for making Tracs possible,” Dietrich said.

Tracs Scholarships, which are available to both currently established A&Ps and final-semester FAR 147 students, are good for one year. For the most part students must provide their own transportation and accommodations but Dietrich said the next phase of the program is to acquire travel supplements.

“This past year we had 20 awards available but gave away only 14,” he said. “The process requires simply a 250-word essay, a résumé and a letter of recommendation, yet we didn’t have enough applicants to give them all away. Apparently we’re great idea people but perhaps not the best communicators.”

2007 Maintenance Tracs Recipients and Their Courses

•    Susan Alexander–Honeywell, TFE731-20/40/60 LMM Course

•    Dan Parker–Global Jet Services, AIMM PDP Course

•    Steve Church–CornerStone Strategies, PDP Course

•    Donald Peters–Cessna Citation initial maintenance course

•    Charlene Hall–Honeywell, SPZ8400/HUD GIV avionics course

•    Louis Duquette–Gulfstream Aerospace GIV initial course

•    Russell Harden–Honeywell, TFE731-20/40/60 LMM course

•    Amanda Stinson–Cessna Citation 560XL initial course

•    Jorge Chipollini–Honeywell, TFE731-20/40/60 LMM Course

•    Michael Parks–Rolls-Royce AE3007 engine course

•    Kelly Tuzsynski–Bombardier CL604 ramp and transit course

•    Bryan Dudas–FlightSafety Principles of Troubleshooting course

•    Ian Rotich–Bombardier Learjet 60 ramp and transit course

•    Jeffrey Hitchcock–GE CF34 engine cou