Texas Gyro

It Worked When It Came In

TexasGyro | 24 August, 2015 15:43

The two things that any avionics shop hates to hear the worst are “It worked when it came in” and “It’s cheaper on Trade-A-Plane”.  The yellow rag is a topic for a later date.

Different category aircraft bring a different category of customer.  Someone who can barely afford to put gas in their 1962 172 is often less likely to make the “It worked when it came in” claim than the wealthy 1998 Bonanza owner.  Even less likely is the corporate pilot flying a turboprop or business jet because they often understand that aircraft are complicated machines and they break.  Some genuinely believe that it worked and some are looking for something for nothing.  Sometimes it simply broke all by itself while it was sitting.

At a previous stop in my career we were specialized in doing complete avionics redos in 400 series Cessna aircraft.  It seemed that 99% of the time we were dealing with an owner pilot who was moving up from a Bonanza or similar high performance single.  The good news is these customers were willing to spend the money to do it right, the bad news is they were the pickiest customers I have ever had to deal with.  We learned (the hard way) that our incoming inspection had to be expanded to include ANY defects in the paint, interior, glass, and even tires!!  We would even perform engine runs to make sure there were no “It worked when it came in” problems.

I have always performed a complete incoming inspection for any aircraft that we were performing an installation on in order to establish a baseline of what worked and what didn’t.  We then present that form to the customer before work begins and give them the option of troubleshooting, repairing, or deferring.  This has a twofold benefit in that you won’t get blamed for it being broke when you are finished as well as possibly saving you a ton of time troubleshooting something that you think you broke.  Case in point:  A King Air was dropped off for a dual G600/GTN750 installation.  We were replacing everything avionics except for the autopilot.  The customer was asked if there were any known discrepancies and none were relayed.  During the incoming inspection we found several problems that would have been ours, had we not caught them, including bad panel lights and an inoperative manual electric trim, as well as corroded radar altimeter antennas and two bad VHF com antennas (there were numerous other problems, but they all resolved themselves with new equipment).

In my early twenties I was working in a small two man shop and installed power connectors for headsets in a Shrike Commander.  Around lunchtime one day the customer came in to the shop (I was the only one there) and literally cussed me for about 10 minutes, going on and on about how I had broken his airplane and I would never touch it again.  It turns out he had lost all electric power shortly after takeoff.  I had no clue how installing headset power connectors could have possibly killed his entire electrical system and didn’t appreciate the colorful language he used to describe the situation and me.  As a rule when I get in an aircraft that I am not familiar with, I always turn off everything that doesn’t need to be on prior to applying power.  It is not uncommon for lights to be left on and you will find hot magnetos from time to time.  After careful consideration I realized that I had probably turned his generators off and he had failed to turn them back on. It was with great pleasure that I drove to his maintenance shop and informed him of this.  His response was “You can leave now”.  Much to his dismay I insisted on staying until the mechanic could verify that everything was ok.  His defense was that you never turn the alternator off in your car, so why turn them off in your airplane?  My response “What does your checklist say?

I’m reminded of another time when a 210 customer picked up his airplane and shortly after powering up he shut everything down and stormed in to the shop throwing a fit.  His audio panel was broke and he was very upset about it.  I calmly walked him back to his airplane and showed him how to turn his audio panel on.

I have learned in my 25 years in this business to never say never.  Especially on older aircraft you never know how the work that you perform will affect other systems in the aircraft.  Shit breaks, and sometimes it’s your fault.  Don’t be defensive or insulted until you are 100% sure you didn’t break it.  On many more than one occasion I did cause a problem and had no problem admitting to and correcting the problem.  It’s inventible in this business that you are going to break something.  If you never break anything then you are probably not doing anything.  The trick is to admit it when you mess up and do your best to correct the situation.  You never hide it from the customer or sweep it under the rug.


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