Running a flight training operation is hard enough. Running a maintenance operation is also hard.
Many flight training operations leave the management of aircraft to a contracted maintenance provider or an A&P and/or IA mechanic who is part of the operation. Many training providers have maintenance staff for their aircraft that also offer for-hire maintenance services for customer aircraft. Some of the biggest training providers have full maintenance programs just for their own fleets of training aircraft. But the bulk of training providers haven’t thought through the best ways to modify their maintenance practices to maximize the flight training they can provide.
Let’s talk about some that you may want to consider and incorporate into your own flight training operation.
Do maintenance on tach time, not Hobbs time
The FAA has repeatedly said that “time in service” with respect to maintenance time records means from the moment an aircraft leaves the surface of the Earth until it touches down at the next point of landing. This doesn’t mean time while taxiing, running the battery programming GPS systems, or other activities. It means in the air. That is different than what is loggable time for a pilot, and that is for a different discussion, but for our purpose here, the goal is to not over count time that would not be required to be applied to maintenance tracking.
Many aircraft being used to provide pilot training have both tach and Hobbs hours tracking devices. An efficient operation will make sure its maintenance tracking is done on tach hours, not Hobbs hours.
Why? Because tach time is most commonly calculated based on engine usage, not “battery on” time and will typically run at a slower rate than a Hobbs meter will for any given operation. It allows an operator to have more billable flight hours and less frequent maintenance inspections. This extends the period of in-service operation for equipment.
In most cases, the billing to your customers should be done on Hobbs time, because that is what they will be able to log. The maintenance time is less relevant to the customer, but highly relevant to your bottom line.
Want a second tip?
Tach time can technically be run off of “in flight time” also. That means when the wheels are off the ground. So, taxi and run-up times wouldn’t count. For aircraft that are equipped with “weight on wheels” switches such as a squat switch, the tach time could be tied to this to even further extend the period of actual time in service between things such as 100-hour inspections.
The heater inspection on twins
Many twin-engine aircraft have mandated heater inspections that need to be completed at intervals. Frequently these are completed every 100 hours so they may be included in 100-hour inspections, but they don’t need to be.
Especially for aircraft operated in warmer climates or during the summer months where the heaters are not used regularly, a separate heater Hobbs meter in place or installed that will track actual heater “turned on” time can limit the number of inspections needed per year on this system. It may help get that aircraft out of the shop earlier, maximizing the profit generating time you can use the aircraft.
Maintenance during down days/times/vacation times
Most training flights are completed during the day and not on holidays. Those are common down times for your aircraft. They are also great times to complete maintenance that won’t leave an aircraft in the hangar on a day it could be flying.
Schedule your maintenance, work with your staff, and plan to get maintenance done whenever it will least interfere with your flight operations.
A few large providers conduct their aircraft maintenance in overnight hours. If you see three days of bad weather coming and an aircraft won’t be flying but still has 5 hours to go until the 100-hour inspection, do it early. Keep your aircraft flying when they can be, and be proactive with scheduling and conducting maintenance whenever it won’t stop revenue generation.
Sure, aircraft break and you will have to take them off the line to fix problems, but annual inspections and 100-hour inspections shouldn’t surprise you. Planning can maximize the in-service time.
Holiday period maintenance is a tough subject. Everyone wants to give their maintenance staff time off, but is that really the best service to your business? If your operation has a two-week downtime between semesters, make sure you come back from the break with more in-service aircraft than when you went into the break. It may mean paying some overtime or holiday bonus pay, but if you leave broken airplanes down through a business holiday, the first few days back will be the best weather you will get for months and you will miss an opportunity for revenue and training progress for your customers.
A hundred-hour inspection is almost always the same as an annual. Many operators choose to have every 100-hour they can signed off as an annual inspection. This resets the clock for the yearly annual inspection whenever possible. Why bother, you might ask? Well, what if you end up with staff unavailable to perform an annual inspection when it has come due? This might happen in an operation where there is one IA mechanic and multiple A&P mechanics who work with them when that IA unexpectedly is out for a family emergency or health reasons. If you had a bunch of aircraft coming up on annual inspections, this can be a problem.
Signing off inspections as annuals whenever possible gives you more options for timing. Sure, you still need to track this, but whenever you can reset the clock for work you are already doing, why wouldn’t you?
Be ready for common items that break
Oil filters, oil, light bulbs, or spark plugs should never be something you need to order. Common failure and wear items should be on the shelf to get aircraft back in service without waiting for a part to get delivered.
The bigger your fleet, and the more standardized it is, the more items you might choose or be able to maintain on site for quick fixes. Bigger operators regularly have on hand extra magnetos, starters, alternators, cylinders, or even engines. This takes some capital outlay, but it means your assets keep generating revenue.
This is part one of a two-part series. The second part of this series will be published in the March 31 edition of Flight School Business.—Ed.
Jason Blair is a National Association of Flight Instructors master flight instructor and a designated pilot examiner.