The easiest way to bolster the long-term performance and safety of an aircraft is to carry out regular maintenance. It is one of the most important tasks for airlines and private aircraft owners, and one that should never be underestimated. Maintenance refers to a set of activities including the inspection, reformation, and repair of an aircraft. It is not only important for large commercial aircraft, but for small civilian planes as well. The maintenance guidelines for a specific airline will be listed in the aircraft manuals, and no airline or company is exempt from complying with these standards. There are many airworthiness authorities throughout the world, all with the goal of making sure every aircraft owner is maintaining the safety and condition of their aircraft.
Maintenance is highly regulated for many different purposes. For one, proper maintenance can help avoid mid-flight aircraft failures. In order to make sure all parts and components are in their ideal condition, regular maintenance should be scheduled and aircraft parts should be replaced as necessary. It is also important to ensure that all changes are done in accordance with aircraft performance manuals from the relevant manufacturers. Second, maintenance helps aircraft continue to perform well. Regular checkups will ensure the aircraft is serviceable for its next flight and operational checks prior to each flight will make sure failure does not occur in the middle of a flight.
Third, maintenance helps ensure passenger safety. The safety of all those onboard is the number one priority of every airline. Thorough and frequent maintenance helps those airlines assure their passengers the flight will be as safe and smooth as possible. Finally, regular maintenance will not only ensure the aircraft will perform safely throughout its intended service life, but can also significantly increase its service life.
In order to effectively carry out preventative maintenance, an aircraft should undergo different levels of inspection throughout its maintenance schedule. Many airline operators use an A-B-C-D system for regular maintenance checks. In this system, A and B checks refer to lighter, less intrusive checks, while C and D checks are more significant and frequently involve disassembly using tools. A checks are typically done at one’s own facility or an MRO site. Checks of this level are needed every 400-600 flight hours or 8-10 weeks and typically involve simple repairs like the changing of filters, lubrication of hydraulics and flight control surfaces, and inspection of all emergency components. B checks are highly similar to A checks. In fact, the completion of all levels of an A check (A1-A10) is the equivalent of a B check.
C checks are done every 18 to 24 months or on a set interval as directed by the manufacturer. These are far more complex than A or B checks and require a significant amount of components to be inspected, often putting the aircraft out of service for up to a few weeks. The final level of check, D, is by far the heaviest and most expensive aircraft maintenance procedure. As such, it is conducted only every 6 to 10 years. The process of a D check involves the disassembly of nearly the entire aircraft, with sometimes even paint being removed to check the condition of the exterior metals. D checks can take more than two months and cost millions of dollars. However, by the end of a D check, operators can be confident the aircraft is virtually as good as new.
Another important aspect of aircraft maintenance is knowing when a part can be repaired versus when it should be replaced. There are three important questions to ask in order to figure this out. First, how critical is the part to the safety of the aircraft? For example, say you are wondering about the reliability of the aircraft brakes. Because they are such an important component, it would probably be best to err on the side of caution and replace them. Second, what is the cost, including time, of repair versus replacement? Replacement is often more costly than repair, but it also saves time and other resources, so both options should be considered. Finally, how will repair affect the future reliability of the part? This will ultimately depend on the condition and age of the part. If it is old and worn down, even a top-quality repair job will not do much to increase its long term reliability.
In general, all aircraft are legally required to have an aircraft maintenance log (AML). An AML is typically a large paper book used to record the details of every flight, every technical fault that occurs, and any maintenance done to address these faults. After each flight, the captain fills in flight details such as the amount of fuel loaded and the flight times. This allows engineers to monitor how many hours and flight cycles the aircraft and engines have flown. Furthermore, the captain must denote any defects with the aircraft that may have occurred during a flight, including those in the cabin.
Aircraft maintenance is strictly regulated to guarantee the safe and correct function of parts during flight. In civil aviation, national regulations are based on international standards set forth by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). ICAO standards are then implemented by local authorities to regulate maintenance tasks, personnel, and inspection programs. All maintenance staff must be properly licensed for the work they do. Finally, once maintenance is complete, an authorized person must sign a maintenance release declaring that all maintenance has been done in accordance with relevant airworthiness requirements.
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