A couple years ago I had a King Air in maintenance at a brand facility. My experience with larger, chain maintenance facilities was limited to having a few friends that worked at some of these facilities as mechanics. I had heard them lament the excessive amounts of paperwork and procedures that inevitably seem to plague any shop of a larger size, but I didn’t really understand the problem until I experienced it myself.
The aircraft was dropped off at the shop for maintenance early in the week, and being used to working with a smaller shops and not wanting to be considered a nag, I waited patiently for a phone call with the results of a preliminary inspection so I’d know what we would be expecting for this maintenance event. I waited, and waited, and then waited a bit more, becoming slight concerned and then agitated as the first week, then the second week rolled past. Finally, worried that perhaps they did not have my phone number, I tried to call and get an update. After being handed off several times to various people who could not answer my general questions, I was informed that the person I needed to talk to was on vacation, but would be back at the end of the week. I agreed to leave a voice mail and wait.
Over the next week I tried multiple times to get someone on the phone that could give me an actual update on the aircraft. Every time it seemed someone was out sick, out to lunch, or just out of the office for the moment, and I was assured I’d be called back. Never happened.
Finally, I decided the only way to ensure my airplane was actually undergoing some kind of maintenance inspection, was to show up, unannounced at the maintenance facility. Donning my fatigues and black face paint in preparation for my guerrilla warfare style sneak attack, I made my way to the shop early in the morning, hoping to catch someone unawares between their morning coffee break and early afternoon lunch. By this time my mental picture of the work going on in this shop tended more towards donut breaks and long drawn out board meetings, than any actual wrench turning. So when I arrived and found 20 plus mechanics dutifully working on airplanes, I honestly was a bit surprised.
After a brief wait for the front desk to bring someone to guide me through the expansive shop, we found my aircraft, with no one working on it at the moment. It was obvious that some work had been done, but none of the mechanics were present for me to be able to talk to or question about the progress. The lead for the project was busy elsewhere as well, so I had to satisfy myself with the evidence that at least portions of the aircraft had been taken apart and were, hopefully, in the middle of inspection.
Over the next couple of months, it was a constant dance with the shop, sometimes getting a phone call back days after I left a voicemail, and occasionally getting to talk to someone that at one point had put a wrench on the airplane, but the majority of the time was spent in frustrated silence wondering about the progress on my airplane. Eventually the inspection was finished and the aircraft put back into service. The maintenance was quality work, albeit much more lengthy than I felt it should have been, and of course more expensive than I was used to, but it was finished.
I spent the next couple months wondering why this maintenance event had left such a bad taste in my mouth. Was it expensive? Yes, but I knew that going in to it. Had it seemed to take an exorbitant amount of time to complete the inspection? Also yes, but once again, not the main cause of my frustration and disappointment. After a conversation with a friend lamenting our experiences at these brand name shops, I felt I was finally able to put my finger on the issue.
No one there cared about me. That may seem a bit self-absorbed, but it was the truth. I got into aviation, not just because I love airplanes, but also because aviation (especially general aviation) is a close knit little family where everyone shares a similar passion. I love spending time out at the airport talking shop or arguing over a favorite airplane’s pros and cons. You create a rapport with the people at your airport and at your maintenance shop. At this shop however, there was no desire to create a relationship with me or my aircraft.
As we started Double M Aviation, we discussed what things were important to us, and due to our various experiences we all felt that one of the things we wanted to do was create a relationship with the owners and their airplanes. Airplanes are great, we all love them or we wouldn’t be doing the jobs we do now, but people are more important. Hearing what they have to say and really listening, both to the pilot and the airplane. Creating an atmosphere where learning is encouraged, questions can be asked and answered, and people feel welcome is a crucial step in providing quality maintenance. Creating trust between a pilot and mechanic is invaluable, but the only way to truly develop that trust is through creating a genuine relationship over time.
We want every pilot or owner to have the ability to show up at the shop anytime and talk to the mechanic who is working on his aircraft. To be able to see the steps in the process and have them explained to him. We encourage every owner to be as involved or as uninvolved in the maintenance process as they see fit.
As a smaller shop, we have the luxury of getting to know our customers on a personal basis. Mike Naab, the owner of Double M Aviation, inspects every aircraft before personally taking it on a post maintenance test flight. He is creating a relationship, not just with the owner, but with the aircraft. Learning its quirks so that the next time it is in for maintenance we not only know the aircraft better, but can use that knowledge to more quickly and efficiently determine the issue, and get the airplane back in the air.
For us, relationship isn’t just a cool idea, it’s a critical part of providing safe, quality maintenance for the aircraft and its owner.
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