Chapter 13. The Mechanic Certificate

Brief History

Although Human Factors Management is sometimes thought of as a relatively “new" science, it can actually be traced back to the early 1900s. (Refer to AC 120- 51A, Crew Resource Management (CRM) Training, dated 1993.) During WWI, human factors was defined as individual skills and abilities. Most of that early focus in aviation was on the pilot and his or her functions. Specifically, things like technical proficiency, intelligence tests, and how “fearless" a volunteer was—were the important issues to consider. For the next 20 years, these core factors guided the pilot selection process. Although there was some learning that occurred in British munitions plants about the effects of fatigue on quality and productivity, it was not incorporated into aviation until many years later.

During WWII, “human factors" was more broadly defined, and encompassed crew coordination and machine design. Flight crew management was studied, and there was significant information gained about group dynamics and stress. The Army Air Corp. even redesigned cockpit controls. But, unfortunately there was no similar study conducted in maintenance operations, and mechanics were generally seen as individual contributors, and screened only for their technical competency.

Unfortunately, all the “lessons learned" in the WWII studies of group dynamics, and flight crew communication were seemingly forgotten after the war. Post WWII aircrew studies continued to focus primarily on flight crews, especially pilot selection, simulator training, and cockpit layout and design.

Subsequent studies of the technician focused on his or her individual competency, and included equipment design (ergonomics). The Vietnam Conflict brought the quest for greater safety, and with that, came a systematic approach for error reduction. This increased attention brought both good and bad changes. It led to the “Zero Defects" quality programs in maintenance and manufacturing. Generally, this had a positive effect. However, it also led to “crackdown programs" which were one-way communication from management (the infamous “my way or the highway" approach). This concept is more dictatorial than democratic, and typically had a long-term negative effect on the company. This “crackdown" approach for behavior control is based upon fear and punishment, which creates a problem. Errors are driven into hiding, and then become apparent later, usually at a more critical time (“Murphy’s Law"). Additional attempts to develop “foolproof" equipment designs were added to the zero defect manufacturing goal and began to find recognition in the maintenance world as well. Subsequent efforts focused on effects of positive rather than negative motivators. The results of this effort were a reversal of the “crackdown" method, and motivation due to increased morale often improved maintenance safety performance. Studies have shown that motivation resulting from negative sources seldom achieved the same effect. This led to a “Participative Management" style recognized by some U.S. industry and a few airlines, but did not reach maintenance operations until much later.

The Airline Deregulation (1978 –1988) effort had a profound effect upon the aviation community. Prior to 1978, the airline industry was regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938. This resulted in peaceful markets, stable routes, and consistent air fares. However, there was a downside consisting of two major problems: wasteful management practices and excessively high wages compared to other comparable skilled-labor industries. The Airline Deregulation Act brought in competitive business practices, with routes and fares controlled by their profitability. This led to a new style of airline management in which a CEO was more of a business person and less knowledgeable of aviation. Existing airlines developed new routes and added new kinds of service and style. Start-up airlines brought other innovative ideas. The numerous mergers and acquisitions added an increasing pressure to focus on the financial bottom line. Doing more with less became the byline. In the 1980s, maintenance departments were not immune to the pressures of mergers and staff reductions. However, fleets were extremely reliable at that time, and significant savings were aided by a reduction in number of maintenance technicians. Other new ways of conducting business included leasing of aircraft and outsourcing of maintenance. A result of deregulation was change for the maintenance programs (both personnel and departmental) and the pressure to produce and adjust. The problem, however, was that human factors for aviation maintenance was still stuck in the 1960s model.

A detailed review of aviation literature published between 1976 and 1987 had very little to say about maintenance. Out of 50 published articles, only 15 even mention maintenance. Most of these articles deal with ergonomics, one article examines military engine design to “solider proof" the maintenance duties, and one U.S. Navy article advocated more management control.

As human factors awareness progressed, a “culture change" occurred in U.S. carriers in the 1990s. Management behavior began to change; there were practical applications of systems thinking; organization structure was revised; and new strategy, policy, and values emerged. Virtually all of these involved communication and collaboration. One example is from 1991, when Continental Airlines began “CRM type" training in maintenance. Airline executives saw the importance of improving communication, teamwork, and participative decision-making. A second example is the United Airlines establishment of a change in organization and the job of inspectors. They remained more accessible during heavy maintenance and overhaul and stayed in closer communication with mechanics during normal repairs. The results were fewer turnbacks and higher quality. A third example is the Southwest Airlines developement of a strong and clear organizational structure led by the CEO. This resulted in open and positive communication between maintenance and other departments. A final example is the TWA establishment of a new program to improve communication between the maintenance trade union and maintenance management, resulting in improved quality.

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