Maintenance Training Standards Explained

By Gordon Walker — August 06, 2013

Once upon a time, men were admired and rewarded for their ability to make fire, club furry animals to death, and paint pictures of those animals on the wall of the family cave. Things evolved, and we shifted our admiration to those who could dance the Twist, play wicked guitar licks, grow cool facial hair, and perhaps roll a “special” cigarette with one hand. Now we admire those who become “dot-com” billionaires by age 24 without actually creating anything, propel a golf ball or football with a high degree of accuracy, or are willing to expose their darkest personality quirks and secrets on some cheesy reality TV show.

Similarly, the skills, knowledge and abilities of the aircraft maintainer also continue to evolve. To this end, many training organizations are striving to update their curricula to meet the demands of present-day industry. Transport Canada last updated its training standards in the mid-late 1990s, and the CCAA (formerly CAMC) continues to work toward maintaining occupational standards. But industry requirements are something of a “moving target”, and the process of training a new generation of aircraft maintainers presents a great challenge for the country’s aviation colleges.

One of the greatest drawbacks I see associated with the development of new curriculum packages is the propensity of old farts like myself to insist on maintaining the sacred cows of the traditional maintenance-training paradigm. Teaching things because “we always have” is an unfortunate reality, which is a waste of time and effort – time and effort that could and should be spent teaching competencies that are relevant and useful. For example, electrical and electronics programs tend to emphasize circuit calculations, often involving numerous resistors, capacitors and inductors, etc., in a ridiculously complex configuration. Having someone calculate the voltage drop across a resistor of 4.7KΩ with 238mA of current running through it is absurd, when the reality is that person will spend the bulk of his career changing wheels and brakes, performing service checks, swapping out black boxes, and maybe, sometimes, using a meter to determine if there is power on one pin and ground on the other.

The “M” side of the business has similar questionable training “norms”, such as having students perform horsepower calculations in their engine courses, or calculating pressure, force, etc., in their hydraulics class. We continue to include this training “because we always have”. But let’s be honest here. How many of us actually perform these tasks when we’re in the field working on airplanes? The only time I ever used a calculator in the hangar was to figure out my overtime pay. I certainly never used it to calculate Xc = 1/2π fC.

What concerns me most about this approach to training is the realization that a young person entering into our trade(s) may be without the academic foundation to successfully perform these theoretical exercises, and will thus fail to graduate, despite the fact that he or she may be a mechanical whiz kid. I wonder how many potentially brilliant mechanics and technicians never made it into the industry because they couldn’t calculate the resonant frequency of a tank circuit, or remember what percentage of the Earth’s atmosphere is nitrogen.

Too many potentially great mechanics and technicians never make it to the field because they flunk out of college due to their inability to perform academic or technical exercises that they would never have occasion to apply in the industry.

Is it really necessary for an apprentice/learner in the 21st century to be able to read an analog multimeter? How about a micrometer? Are these just “dead horses” that we continue to flog because we always have taught students these skills? From an employment perspective, many graduates may be well versed in the complexities and intricacies of the inner workings of valves, black boxes, carburetors, etc., but are unable to perform the simplest of tasks required to actually maintain an aircraft.

The avionics manager who interviewed me for my first job actually chuckled when I proudly told him of all the King Radio Certificates I had earned in college. “You won’t be chasing electrons here; we just change the black box and get ‘er flying again” was what he said. Of course, nobody had shown me how to change a black box when I was in college, nor had I learned how to use lacing cord or lockwire. This was somewhat embarrassing when, on my first day of employment, they sent me into the engine shop to lace and install a harness on a JT8-D engine. Sometimes, we try so hard to cover the complicated stuff we forget about the basics. I’ve seen students who score A+ on all their exams looking at me with a puzzled expression when I ask them to check a fuse. Somehow, we forgot to tell them how to do that part.

Virtually all of the current, practicing AMEs in Canada have received approved, formal training. I would like to appeal to you all to share with me your own personal experiences concerning the relevance of your training for the job you ended up doing. What “sacred cows” were you forced to milk in college? What “dead horses” did your teachers force you to flog? Perform a fabric repair? Spend endless hours figuring out the firing order of a radial engine? Overhaul a component that you now regularly scrap and replace with a new one?

Let me know what aspects of your aviation college training were, in your opinion, a complete waste of time. I’d also like to hear from you about things you didn’t learn in college, that you really wish you had. For me, it was lacing cord and lockwire. What was it for you? Reading a drip-stick without getting an eyeful of fuel? Pulling the pitot-heat circuit breakers before jacking the airplane? How to open a filter cartridge without losing the spring? Email your responses to argofan@sympatico.ca or AMU’s editor, Ian Cook, at amu.editor@gmail.com and tell us about your own experiences. I will use your insights to help in the development of new curriculum packages, and I will publish the more interesting, informed, and especially funny ones in a future article. Let’s see if we can rid our industry of the sacred cows and dead horses once and for all!

Here are a couple of questions in keeping with the gist of this article:

Q1: What is the voltage drop across a resistor of 4.7KΩ with 238mA of current running through it?
Q2: A hydraulic press has an input cylinder 1 inch in diameter and an output cylinder 6 inches in diameter. Calculate the force exerted by the output piston when a force of 10 pounds is applied to the input piston.

From the previous article:

Q: Name two sources of input data to the Airshow Mapping feature of a passenger entertainment system.
A: Avionics sources, such as air data computers and inertial reference/navigation systems, provide input to what is commonly known as the airshow mapping feature of the PES.

About The Author

Gordon Walker

GORDON WALKER entered the avionics industry after graduation from Centennial College in 1980. His career with Nordair, Air Canada, CP Air, PWA, and ultimately Canadian Airlines took him to many remote corners of Canada. Since leaving the flight line to pursue a career as a college professor, Walker has continued to involve himself in the aviation/avionics industry, by serving on several CARAC Committees concerning the training and licensing of AMEs, being nominated to the CAMC Board of Directors, and being elected President of the National Training Association. (NTA).

View all articles by Gordon Walker.