Fear of Flying, Ch 3: I Pretend I’m a Parts Lister


Since I couldn’t just sit there and drink coffee and chain smoke forever I finally opened one of the Job folders stacked high on my desk.

Inside was a work copy of an IPC and a “Job Sheet” attached to an EPL (Engineering Parts List, the Parts List generated with a blueprint). The ‘job’ involved overhead storage bins in the cabin area of a passenger jet. I was relieved. I wouldn’t be responsible for killing anyone. But would my ignorance be the cause of storage bins crashing down on passenger’s heads in mid-flight? I imagined casualties in nursing homes across the country drooling into complimentary Airline Barf Bags (ABBs).

If IPCs had ever been placed in context within The Big Picture of Aerospace Manuals  (TBPAM) during the training class I would not have been so worried. But I did worry because I thought an IPC was an entity unto itself. Years later, when I’d moved up and out to different companies and wrote complete Maintenance Manuals, I found that TC‘s IPCs were incorporated into full manuals by Tech Writing Depts within the Aerospace Companies. With that knowledge I’d have thought, “Relax. They’ll catch any errors at that level.”

A foolish thought but it would have helped at the time.

If the Coordinator hadn’t come by after a few days I might still be sitting there shuffling those papers around my desktop. Luckily for me, he was an affable good-natured guy from some Middle Eastern country who didn’t seem to take much of anything seriously. “OK, so now you will be revising that IPC to those updates, right? Easy job! Yes! That is easy job!”

Oh thank goodness. A clue!!!

I opened the EPL and started comparing it to the IPC Work Sheet. Since the IPCs last revision, many updated EPLs had been issued but none had yet been incorporated. The IPC Work Sheet showed it was current with say… Rev AA of the Engineering Parts List. The EPL included with my job was, let’s say… Rev BT.  The job before me was to update the IPC to include all changes made by Rev BT and all interim revisions of the EPL.

I was supposed to look through the EPL and update every single top installation in the IPC? Impossible, I thought! Who could go through 100 different installations used by hundreds of airlines and compare each one as listed to all that had occurred in the past year plus?

After a few weeks, both the affable Coordinator and the not-at-all-affable Supervisor were at my desk. The Supervisor wanted to know why I hadn’t turned in any jobs yet. The Coordinator showed him the two-inch high stack of green sheets I’d written and said, “This is very big job.’ That seemed to make a minor impression. The Supervisor gave me a look and left. Hurry, I had to hurry and get this done! I randomly picked one installation and updated the rest of the entire IPC Work Sheet to that one installation’s changes. No time to compare the rest of them!

I hoped no-one would notice. No-one did.

Did I ever go to the blueprint files and pull the blueprints that went with the Engineering Parts List? Uh, no. I didn’t know I was supposed to do that.

As far as I can remember there was no QC group at the time. Formatting errors would kick out “Exception Sheets” but as far as content… nothing. When I listed something in the wrong indenture on one of the green sheets for that first job, an Exception Sheet arrived that seemed a mile long. When it continued to happen with more jobs, it never occurred to the Coordinator – or to anyone – that perhaps I didn’t know what I was doing. “Maybe you need glasses?” I bought glasses.

I don’t know why no-one thought my mistakes might be due to my being clueless. Because I finished the class early? Because I looked as if I knew what I was doing? Because they liked me? Then they must have really really liked me. Because in that Twilight Zone, knowing pretty much nothing, I gained the reputation of being an excellent Parts Lister. I continued to work in a total state of confusion and excruciating depression for about six months. I asked others from the class questions, what they thought this or that meant, but they’d have no ideas either. Many were just throwing out Job Sheets they didn’t understand and sticking the Job Folders back into the files.

No one noticed.

Then one day, a day like any other, the clouds parted and the sun shone down on the piles of papers on my desk. IPCs and EPLs and Blueprints and Job Sheets and SBs (Service Bulletins) and ADCNs (Advanced Drawing Change Notices) and all the other Acronyms joined hands and did a little dance in my head. I suddenly knew exactly how everything fit together. My Eureka Moment Had Arrived. Once I knew “The Big Picture” (which was really the “Smallest Big Picture in the Big Picture of Aerospace Manuals”) there was no stopping me. I became as good at the job as anyone who loathes airplanes and has no mechanical inclinations whatsoever could get.

What I discovered over the next few years was that practically no IPC with more than 3 parts was correct or complete and that 99.9% of every IPC vendored out to TC was as out-of-date as the one I’d first worked. I thought that problem might be under control now, so many years later. No surprise… it’s not.

No surprise either that airlines are still revision cycles behind IPC and Manual revisions which are revisions behind OEM Revisions. Consider this:

Enigma’s Uptime Blog: Optimizing Inventory by Leveraging Technical Manuals

“At the 2010 Air Transport Association eBusiness Forum, GE admitted that it’s not uncommon for airlines to be two or three revision cycles behind the OEM updates. Why? The conventional process of reconciling and implementing OEM changes takes too long.”

How does this affect inventory?  Each updated illustrated parts catalog (IPC) can contain over 5,000 modified parts lists. That’s over 40% of a typical IPC!  […] Since the IPC defines the valid parts for each aircraft, if revisions are not processed quickly then the ERP documents that drive inventory decisions will not be accurate—Minimum Equipment List (MEL), Master Parts List (MPL) and Maintenance Planning Documents (MPD). In fact, if an airline gets two or three revisions behind on maintenance manuals and parts catalogs the inventory and ERP system will no longer reflect actual fleet requirements, and inventory will become bloated with “dead” parts.”

Though the bloggers for Enigma (who are selling that product) accurately describe the problems caused by Airlines lagging revision cycles behind OEM updates, they still miss the most basic problem. They assume that creating a system that automatically pulls parts and repair information from IPCs and other Manuals will fix those problems. They never state that the OEM IPCs and Manuals themselves are out of date, incomplete and incorrect. Extruding info from them, no matter how cost-effectively, would only allow for gathering incorrect information more quickly.

Enigma makes the same incorrect assumption that Frontline made.

Next Time: I Get a Dime Raise!

That’s ridiculously true but not the real topic… hold on, I’m getting to the juicier parts.

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