Engineering Support for STC Prototype Installations

If you have had the privilege of being involved in a large STC project, you probably experienced one of the most satisfying and, at the same time, most frustrating times of your life. As the project engineer in these large STC projects, it could be even more frustrating due to the many moving parts involved. You are not just in a technical support role. You also get to be a part time logistics and full-time certification expert, at least you are to everyone else at the Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) facility. Whether you’ve been through these many times or you’re about to experience your first one, (Hopefully you didn’t get sent by yourself!) here are a few tips that might help you.

Coordinate with your program manager. Always be aware of the schedule and make sure that the technical issues are not impacting it. If you’re lucky enough to have both the program manager and project engineer roles, make sure you remain cognizant of the program issues and tasks. This is sometimes very hard when you are in the midst of several engineering issues that are happening, but if you’re stuck with doing both roles you have to track your program milestones periodically. If things get to be too much, don’t be afraid to ask your PM or leadership for help.

Get to know the maintenance staff at the MRO. Whether the MRO is a supplier or a company one, you need to get to know not just the leadership, but also the technicians working on your project. Building a rapport with everyone involved with your project really helps, especially when things get difficult. People are more willing to work with you rather than leaving you to solve every problem that comes up. Find out what the work shifts are, and which shift will do the most work. This will help you schedule your time (or if you’re lucky, your staff’s time) to where it is the most efficient.

Get to know the MRO’s engineering staff. Depending on which MRO you go to, you may or may not have to work with an onsite engineering staff. Usually an onsite engineering staff will be mainly concerned with issues that pertain to the type of routine maintenance like a C Check. They deal with structural damages, electrical and avionics testing, and issues with the engineering paperwork. They normally welcome a dedicated engineer supporting an STC modification. You will still need to work with them as there is usually a process that the technicians and installers use to address engineering issues. They have to be part of the process, but they would rather you do the support work for your mod instead of them.

Get to know the regulatory folks that are approving the different phases of your modification. Have a plan to coordinate their arrival with having the right paperwork and information ready for them when they get there. Find out who will sign the Form 337 within the MRO. In the world of ODA’s and Unit Members, pretty much all of these folks are going to work with you as long as you are prepared. Keep in mind that their schedules are tight, so it is very important that you are in constant contact with them about deviations and schedules changes. This is key at the end of the modification when you are running around making sure that the rest of the certification paperwork is finished. Remember, the work isn’t done until the paperwork is signed off.

Working with your engineering supplier

In the world of aircraft modification, you will sometimes need an engineering supplier to do the bulk of the heavy design work. Whether you are a small operator with no engineering team, or a large airline operator that cannot spare your engineering staff to do one-off modifications, you will find the need to contract out some engineering work from time to time. Regardless if you’ve never done this before or you’ve done this a few dozen times, here are some tips that may help you when working with that engineering supplier.

1.       Know the contract. This gives you an idea of what you can and can’t ask you supplier to do. It also keeps you out of trouble with Change Requests and additional charges. Knowing the contract really helps establishing the correct tone and a good relationship with your supplier.

2.       Determine the protocol and who are the main decision makers. Agree on the hierarchy of who is responsible for contacting the key people within the different companies and the certification authorities. (ODA, DOA, FAA, EASA)

3.       Get clear definition on the design path and how to handle changes as they come. In large projects, changes always happen. Getting a clear definition on how to handle the design gives you an avenue to handle design changes later on. You know what the starting point was and where to take it if issues come up that require design changes.

4.       Most of the time, you will need to have some existing engineering data to start from. Make sure the responsibilities of getting existing design data is well defined. If it isn’t, get it defined and get it written down and agreed on. This one will require some thought as some data can be proprietary and cannot be released without NDA’s in place. Knowing who had the primary responsibility will help cut down on schedule delays as the design is progressing.

5.       Get clear definition on timelines and due dates and get it written and agreed on. These will also change from time to time on larger projects. This is why a procedure to agree on timelines and due dates is important. It establishes a way of agreeing to changes when it does happen.

6.       Communicate. Well. Not doing this well is the root of all problems. This is especially critical during the early phases of design. The early phase of design is usually when people let their guard down. Sometimes people will think there is time to correct issues or press on with the designing even though you haven’t completely thought through all the risks. If you communicate well, you can proceed as long as everyone knows where the risks are and how to react to them.

These are just somethings to consider when working with your engineering vendor. As with our previous article, this is meant to stimulate your mind and give food for thought for issues that might come up. Hopefully this ultimately helps you in avoiding schedule delays and unnecessary costs. Leave us a comment below on what you think. We also encourage you to let us know of any topics you would like us to address.


Supporting an aircraft modification in a maintenance facility

Congrats, you’re the one in charge of accomplishing a modification (mod) to your aircraft. Maybe it’s a new system that was dreamt up of your business development/marketing group, or an upgrade required by an Airworthiness Directive, or maybe even a new interior reconfiguration so your company can keep up with the competition. Whatever it is, you are now the person going to the maintenance facility who will be responsible for making sure it gets done on time and on budget. You may be the program manager, project engineer or even the maintenance representative. It could be your first time running a mod, or your fiftieth time. It doesn’t matter, you will experience pain. Guaranteed. To what degree depends on your experience and how well prepared you are. Since experience is just something you will have to gain, let’s go over some things to better prepare you for the upcoming mod. This is by no means a complete list, but for now, let’s just do an overview of the higher-level items.

Before you go to the maintenance facility:

1.       Know your schedule. I know this is obvious, but this is always the hardest task to stay on track on. Things always come up that will affect your schedule. Make sure you have correctly identified your key milestones and that you are always tracking to meet them. Of course, as these things start to affect your schedule, you should always have multiple contingency plans but do your best to keep to your milestones.

2.       What needs to be at the maintenance facility before the mod starts? Your installation kits and maybe some spare parts. What documentation do you need to make sure your parts are ready for use? Does the facility have an acceptance procedure that require the kits and parts to be there before a certain amount of time before the kits and parts can be issued and used? These are just some of the things that can hold up the start of your modification.

3.       Do you have all the necessary paperwork? Modification facilities require a complete installation package to be at their site a certain amount of time before the aircraft comes in. They have their procedures on how the paperwork is controlled and gets issued. Make sure you coordinate with them on these requirements or you will have the aircraft in with your parts, but no one will touch it because you have no authorized paperwork.

When you are onsite:

1.       Take care of all the administrative items ASAP. Badging, parking, security requirements and lunch times, including places to eat. These things should be handled right away so you can get started with the mod right away. You’ll be surprised how these things affect the tone of your mod.

2.       Establish when and where to have your status meetings. Depending on the scale of the installation, you may hold daily, weekly, or something else, as long as a schedule is set.

3.       Make sure you know everyone that is affecting your project. You usually establish a contact list prior to the start but you should make an effort to meet these people, know where they are located and see what type of schedule they have. Some folks you need aren’t going to be there the whole time. Maybe you won’t be onsite the whole time. Make sure you identify the people that are important to your project and know when your schedules match.


After the installation is done:

1.       Paperwork. Make sure everything that needs a signature, has a signature, including everything from the installation to the testing to the release of the aircraft. Everything must be signed off before that aircraft can leave the facility. Oh, and make sure that the people signing are actually qualified and/or certified to sign.

2.       Documentation. Make sure you have all the documents that are needed to show that the work is done and has been certified.

3.       Logistics. Figure out what parts, tools, etc. needs to be sent back out and which can stay. If you’re having the maintenance facility ship it, make sure they give you the tracking information.

So, there you have it! These are just some things to consider before you get that plane ticket and head to the maintenance facility. Not a complete list, but certainly something to get your mind going on what you need to have a successful mod. Hopefully this helped you out. Leave us a comment below on what you think. If you’d like us to write about other issues you might have on your aircraft modification projects, let us know.