First Rate Planes Need First Rate Maintenance

I fly a certain carrier.

I fly a lot of miles on this carrier.

This carrier impresses me as a company. They got through a bankruptcy as a team, and that says something to me.

Now let me tell you what I don't like.

A half-*** approach to maintenance.

You fill in the blanks.

What if the maintenance of this carrier's fleet were as bad as the aesthetic condition of the interior and exterior of the planes? Within a couple of months even new and re-configured planes lose that "new plane" smell. I can live without the "new." What I can't live without is working parts. I don't care how shiny the bells and whistles are, I just want the important parts (engine, hydraulics, on board computer systems, etc.) to function. When I board one of these planes, every single time, I send a little prayer skyward that the maintenance has been done, perfectly.

There's no margin for error. I know I've said this before but it bears repeating. It's not like a car--when you get a lemon, and you have to keep pulling over to the side of the road and calling road service. It's not like a ship, where at least the passengers can get into a lifeboat and have a fighting chance at survival. There's no soft shoulder or lifeboat for a plane. There's only straight down, and certain termination. Every pilot, every crew member, every passenger puts their very lives into the hands of those mechanics. And if they're American mechanics, I can be relatively confident that they're well-paid, well-fed, and well-educated. Do I have that assurance if the mechanic is in some other country? No, I cannot.

How can any passenger feel confident when the mechanics can't read the plane's manual? When I board a plane, I have every intention of getting where I am bound. With an American maintenance team, I am assured that if there were the slightest inkling that the maintenance were not up to par, I still can be confident that the parameters of maintenance are overseen by the FAA and the NTSB, and prescribed by American standards of excellence; and any default of or deviation from that standard of excellence is proscribed by and accountable thru the massive engine of our legal system. Can I say that when maintenance is farmed out to some obscure third world entity? Of course not.

I had one emergency landing one hour out of Sao Paulo and was forced to stay the night, and wait 24 hours for the dubious right to depart on what turned out to be the same plane. Instead of taking off as expected, we rolled to a complete stop out on the runway. The captain came on the PA system stating that he was just not comfortable with the smell in the cockpit, and we were going back to the terminal.

The pilot knew better to trust his own senses over dubious maintenance practices. So for that flight, it was back to the terminal for more waiting.

I do have some cause to worry about maintenance. If there is belt tightening that must be done, by all means do it. But not if it means sacrificing safety standards in favor of a third world discount.

Originally Posted by George Hatcher October 22, 2009