Nine Steps To Successful
Aircraft Maintenance Tracking

Nine Steps To Successful
Aircraft Maintenance Tracking

Anyone who has spent time managing aircraft maintenance or operations knows that staying on top of all the maintenance-driven requirements to keep aircraft compliant and available can at times be challenging. Being aware of what maintenance is coming due and when, and what it will take to satisfy or comply with it, naturally becomes the focus of the individual tasked with that responsibility.

Managing scheduled and preventative maintenance, and regulatory requirements and their completion is a complicated process. This is why maintenance professionals find it necessary to use technology to assist them in the successful execution of these responsibilities. 

Importance of Choosing the Right Tracking Tool

After spending almost 45 years in the industry in many different types of maintenance operations, I have found that choosing and using the right tool is so important. It’s the difference between success and failure. Technical publication revisions, ADs, SBs, approved maintenance schedules, mixed fleets, inventory, and logistics add to the complexity of this challenge.

This is why many of us choose to use one of the very powerful web-based tools that are available for tracking and managing maintenance. It’s important to choose a product and vendor who can support your aircraft and operation. 

For the most part, tracking aircraft maintenance by computer through the use of an industry-driven application is now taken for granted. Stating that “long gone are the days of index cards and white boards” can be said with confidence for most fixed-wing aircraft operations. Typically, an owner/operator makes a choice of providers, and by using the tools developed by his vendor of choice, learns the ins and outs of the application. The outcome is successful maintenance tracking, right? Well, if you are a fixed-wing operator, this is the expectation and typical outcome. Capturing those calendar, hourly and landing/ cycle-driven requirements set forth by the manufacturers is a simple exercise for most fixed-wing operators, as it is just part of their daily routine. Take-off, land, and enter those values into your tracking system. That’s it. Calendar requirement tasks are typically driven automatically. 

Fixed-Wing Aircraft Maintenance Tracking

The fixed-wing industry has been doing it for years. Most maintenance tracking products have been focused on these three simple pieces of information for those same years. In-application tools and work-flows have been developed around these three simple requirements. Over the years, issues relative to fixed-wing aircraft maintenance tracking have already been identified and resolved by most maintenance-tracking products. The result is an application that works well but has been developed and designed around fixed-wing aircraft and operations. 

A big part of this reason for success is that practically all fixed-wing aircraft are operated the same way with a few exceptions. They typically perform one type of mission, moving passengers from one place to another. There aren’t many unique or aircraft-operational driven requirements or equipment installations that affect how you operate the aircraft.

Practically all fixed-wing maintenance requirements use the same three limitations: calendar, hours and landings/cycles. Typically, 100 percent of these requirements are “one-for-one” meaning that one hour or landing equals one.

The Same Cannot Be Said for Helicopters

From a maintenance-tracking perspective, tracking helicopter maintenance requirements with a computer or web-based system is relatively new when compared to fixed-wing. While some companies have been tracking fixed-wing for many years, few if any can say the same about helicopters. This doesn’t mean that helicopter maintenance tracking hasn’t been done. If you are using one of these available options, you are most likely left to continue to use other means to capture and drive those requirements unique to your aircraft to ensure you stay compliant. A whiteboard or the spreadsheet or some other form of documentation is needed because the application cannot completely support your operations and aircraft activities. 

Special Needs of a Helicopter Operation?

Why do these available products not fit all of the needs of a helicopter operation? If we track fixed-wing, why is tracking a helicopter different, or is it different especially with today’s technology? What level of engagement and responsibility lies with, or is needed, by the operator to be successful? What are the differences between tracking your helicopters and your fixed-wing aircraft? Why are these differences important to understand?

The answers are simple enough but are made more challenging by the fact that each helicopter manufacturer uses different techniques to determine how to measure, drive, and capture the stress of operating a helicopter or what is called “low-cycle fatigue”; that stress that is applied to some helicopter components not captured by an hourly, cycle, or calendar requirements.

That stress is applied to certain components because of how a helicopter flies or the missions it performs based on equipment installed such as cargo hooks or hoists. 

Secondarily, but just as important is the fact that those same operating stresses also affect most engines used on helicopters, and each engine manufacturer also uses different techniques to determine, capture, and calculate those operational effects

How Should Helicopter-Tracking Applications Work?

The short answer is they should work as well as they currently do for any fixed-wing. The longer answer is the road to getting the same accurate result for your helicopters is a little more challenging than it is for your fixed-wing fleet and may take more understanding and involvement from you, the operator, to get the same result.

Additionally, the choice of maintenance-tracking products is more difficult, as not all vendors have recognized or have figured out, or even developed how to include automating, capturing, and calculating those operational requirements that are formula driven such as lifts, hoists, and takeoffs. Welcome to the world of helicopter maintenance tracking!

Nine Steps for Successful Helicopter Maintenance Tracking

Here are a few simple steps that all helicopter operators should do to have a successful experience with their maintenance-tracking system.

The steps may be simple but are all important if you want a successful result. Fixed-wing operators can benefit from this also.

  1. Make the effort to completely understand how to enter aircraft totals — If your helicopter tracks “torque cycles” in some format, or captures operational events that apply a penalty to some components, make sure that you and your team know how the system captures and calculates. Your helicopter most likely has parameters or events, other than hours or cycles, required to drive airworthiness limitations that need to be captured, entered, and calculated. Additionally, the vendor will in most cases use names for these events that cannot be readily found and identified in a maintenance manual.
    • Internal Load and External Load operations as defined by the aircraft manufacturer type of penalty against components. 
    • Weight-driven requirements that result in some type of penalty against components.
    • Does the application calculate and capture formula-driven requirements such as RIN (Retirement Index Number) for your Bell or other aircraft or “Penalty,” “Sling,” and “Roping” cycles for other manufacturers? 
    • How does the application capture environmental operational events such as starting and stopping in high wind or operating in sand- or salt-laden air or in cold climates? 
    • Be sure you understand how the application has been set-up for you to capture these events and the resultant behaviors. If you operate more than one make/model, you may need to learn each, as they are most likely different. Ask for training.
  2. Understand what needs to be captured and how — Vendors have to make decisions based on what results they are looking for when developing functionalities. Completely understand your helicopter’s operational-driven requirements and how the application you are looking at or using has been designed to capture and enter them accurately. This might seem like a repeat of number one, but I cannot stress enough how important a complete understanding of what needs to be captured and how based on the application’s behavior, and then where and how to enter it into the application. Not entering all the data correctly, where and when it should be, could cause inaccurate information and an “over-fly” situation.
  3. Be clear with analysts — If you use your provider to manage and enter all your maintenance activity information into the application, make sure that they clearly understand the documentation you are sending them. Additionally, provide any specific direction to your analyst to ensure that the expected results are reflected accurately.
  4. Component Changes — Make sure that you provide all the documentation required, including copies of both the removed and installed Component Cards, for a successful component change.
  5. Assembly/Component Management — Ask about how the application supports managing component assemblies. Moving assemblies off and on an aircraft, managing assemblies in inventory or while at a vendor, awareness of where those assemblies are, and their serviceability status.
  6. Historical Records — If the application you are using has the ability to archive maintenance documents, it’s a good idea to take advantage of that ability. When the need comes up to demonstrate that you have met any requirement, it simplifies that process. It also provides a back-up for aircraft records.
  7. Penalty or “torque cycle” requirement tasks — Ask for help with setting up your system to allow these unique items to be grouped together if possible. This simplifies finding and viewing their remaining time and next due. Find out how and if your system can be used to include these in maintenance due projections. The ability to project large amounts of torque cycle events for an upcoming contract or mission can help identify the right asset to send out on that mission and reduce any surprises or possible over-fly situations.
  8. Ask for training! — Take advantage of any offered training and develop a relationship with your analyst or field representative if the company provides one. They are the real key to becoming an expert in identifying application work flows and applying those tools that are provided by your vendor. It also promotes value for the money you’re spending.
  9. Be clear about workflows — Communicate to your analyst or field representative what your in-house processes and workflows are for things like AD & SB management, returning an aircraft to service, or producing log entries for example. Ask how the application can support these types of activities within those processes you already use. 

Tracking Helicopter Maintenance Can Be Challenging

High-tech complicated aircraft, operational-driven engineering requirements, mixed fleets, operating in remote areas, managing component-driven airworthiness directives, and other regulations are a few of the items that add to this challenge. On top of these, are the day-to-day responsibilities: training, logistics, inventory, personnel, and other applications, like financial or HR software to name a few. 

Reduce those challenges by choosing a provider that has an experienced team and an application whose development is industry driven to support you and your operation.

Use all provided support that the vendor offers and conduct regularly scheduled training events for you and your team. Take the time to learn about all the great integrated tools within the application and how they can simplify your operation. Understand how the system behaves based on your fleet and what is expected to be successful. Start small and