A night in Line Maintenance

“Our Marketing Assistant Hindrek Pärg spent a night in Line Maintenance to get a feel what’s it like working 12 hour shifts while almost everybody else is asleep. He kindly shares his experiences with us.”

For many the term “Line Maintenance“ might not mean much. One might think that it implies working in a factory where you do the same basic thing over and over again with the same tedious face and no excitement. Another might infer that it involves sitting around and waiting for an aircraft to come in and hoping that there is something to do on it. But in reality, it is something much, much more and something really different.

One thing is certain – working in the night shift messes up the sleep schedule, evident by one mechanic coming to work at 20.00 and greeting everybody with “Good Morning”. You have to work while others sleep and sleep while it’s bright and sunny outside. People handle it differently and it even might mean buying special darkening curtains for the bedroom just so it’s possible to close your eyes when the sun is at the highest.

Before every shift, the shift leader gets a list of aircraft and works that need to be done on each one of them. Everyone gets a certain aircraft (or two or three) and immediately start doing the tasks. In line, there is no time to spare.

With some, it might be easy – just getting the necessary telemetry data for the airline, checking the tyre pressures and cleaning the cockpit windows.

With other aircraft it might be more difficult. As was the case with one particular plane, a mechanic spent 1.5 hours in a small, dark and uncomfortable compartment underneath the stabilizer only to find that all of his work had been for nothing and that he needed to do it all over again with another spare part.

Quick on your feet

“You have to be ready for anything. On paper it might say that you have to repair this or that but you might find another issue that needs to be dealt with,” said one mechanic on the unexpected and fast nature of line maintenance.

The sentence came true just moments later when he went to change a logo light bulb but instead found broken wiring which needed an avionic technician. “These things happen. This is line after all,” the mechanic said at 01:15 when the moon was lighting up the night sky.

Because aircraft have to depart early in the morning it means that there is little time to analyse, come up with a solution and take action. “You don’t have time to mull over problems for ages. You have to be quick on your feet, know the aircraft inside-out. Sometimes it is really nerve-wrecking but when you find a solution that works instantly, you feel a great deal of reward. You have to work well under pressure,” another mechanic described.

Impromptu things are common and on that night everything seemed to happen. An aircraft inbound to Tallinn reported an issue on-board one hour before landing. The problem needed to be dealt in the 40 minute window after arriving and before taking off again into the very early morning sky.

But as sometimes is the case in line, you might not always find a solution that works immediately which can cause delays. Of course some issues aren’t that problematic that an aircraft can’t take off or fly safely but in the words of one mechanic, it makes you feel uneasy because you weren’t able to solve a problem.

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork

As this is aviation every movement and with a little bit of hyperbole, every touch of a button needs to be documented. “You have to keep notes because you do so many different things that in the end you might not remember anything,” a mechanic said.

Indeed. Workload can be huge and when you’re almost literally running between planes for 8 hours, you can really easily forget what you do on every single one of them. When the mechanic I shadowed for most of the evening finished with his tasks at 04:05, the paperwork started.

“The hardest time is around 5 o’clock when you’ve been working for 9 hours. You’re finishing up the paperwork, the airport and city are coming alive and you have to do some final things on the aircraft.” Do you notice the passengers in the terminal that are watching what you’re doing? “No, because often you just don’t have the time.”

The final moments

Around one hour before the plane is to depart, the mechanic responsible for the plane has to give it over to the flight crew by returning all of the necessary paperwork and by doing one final test. It is possible to think that after this everything is done and settled but that isn’t the case.

“You can rest only when the plane has departed the gate and taken off but you have to be ready that the flight crew calls you just 10 minutes before departure time.” And that was the case on that particular morning as well. “You have to deal with it, there is no other way.”

At the end of the shift, one mechanic summarised the life in line maintenance: “You’re working on two or three aircraft every night. The feeling of responsibility never leaves you because each morning the plane which you signed off as airworthy departs with 80 people on board. You have to acknowledge to yourself what you’re doing. People’s lives are at stake,”

And that’s Line Maintenance – never relenting, always stressful but exciting and rewarding. In many ways these guys are our heroes and it is an honour to be a part of this fantastic team

*****

Huge thanks to everybody in Line Maintenance, especially to Martin, Sigmar, Janek, Aleksei and Pavel.

Hindrek Pärg
Marketing Assistant | Magnetic MRO
hindrek.parg@magneticmro.com