As much as many of us have warned of the risks of mechanic workarounds they continue. The risks are both to the safety of the aircraft being maintained and the airman’s own license. We all know how workarounds develop - the paperwork a mechanic gets to work off of (maintenance manual procedures, job cards, service bulletins, etc.) is incorrect or the job is very time-consuming and the mechanic develops shortcuts which are supposed to accomplish the intent of the job, if not each literal step.
These workarounds often appear to be sanctioned by the company, tacitly if not explicitly. This means that supervisors and foremen know that the time allotted for a certain job is not enough to accomplish the job – if each step is done as the paperwork requires. This is even more true when a mechanic is handed multiple jobs to do where the time to complete each job by the book is clearly not sufficient. But while a mechanic’s supervisor may know that a job is too time-consuming to be accomplished in the time allowed or that the paperwork is incorrect and a mechanic can’t literally follow all the steps in a procedure or job card, that doesn’t mean that the company will support the employee if the FAA questions the mechanic’s work. In fact, it is most likely that the employer will adamantly state that deviations from procedures are not sanctioned at any time by the company.
This is the dilemma for mechanics. I have written about this a lot lately because of a case I worked on where two mechanics had their licenses revoked for allegedly falsifying records when they accomplished the intent of the job cards they were given, if not every literal step in the order in which it was listed. Part of the problem in this case was that the paperwork the mechanics were given was incorrect and part of the problem was that following every step as written would have taken hours. Although it was quite obvious to me that the mechanics did the job as they had always done it and as their supervisors knew they were doing it, when the FAA questioned their work, the airline did not accept any responsibility for what the mechanics did or how they did it.
In fact, an airline executive testified at the revocation hearing that the company does not condone any deviation from the job cards or maintenance procedures. These particular mechanics won their cases – the cases were dismissed as untimely so the substantive issues of how the job was performed was never decided by the NTSB - because they had a union willing to pay huge legal fees to defend them.
Moral of the Story: A mechanic deviates from written procedures at his or her own risk, not to mention the potential risk to air safety. Even if you think you’re helping the company by getting a job done more quickly by using a workaround, the company will not back you up when push comes to shove with the FAA.
John Goglia has 40+ years experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.