Dealing with over limit events as a mechanic

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I recently got involved in advising an owner on a Lycoming engine overspeed.  This is something I feel is worth talking about because in many cases a published limitation is only written in the POH.  Unless there is an electronic or mechanical way to verify that an over limit has actually occurred, we are left to the honesty and integrity of the pilot, the owner, and the mechanic dealing with the process of returning the aircraft to airworthiness.

Often times, the situation goes like this.  A pilot sheepishly admits to the owner or mechanic that there might have been an _________________ event. We will use an overspeed in this case.  Then there is some foot shuffling and discussion about how much of an overspeed it was.  Generally this is where the subconscious pressure game starts to come into play.  Some numbers are thrown out and they generally tend to get smaller or larger through the conversation.  At some point they say “hey mechanic, what do you think?”.  This is where the pressure can really come in because now it’s up to the mechanic to make the call on how much money and time you spend correcting the issue. And yes, most A&P’s will do the right thing and call it what it is but there is still some pressure in this situation.  I propose a different approach.

After being part of this scenario repeating over and over (flight school environment) I said “there’s GOT to be a better way.). So I implemented a very small change.  I put forth a policy whereby the pilot and owner or anyone involved did all the talking and coaching and foot shuffling and mumbling WITHOUT a mechanic involved.  Once it had all been sorted out and the appropriate numbers were established they filled out an incident report that detailed the particulars.  After this was completed they were to give this to maintenance and then it was very easy to compare the reported numbers with the appropriate manuals and report back which inspections or service were due.

All in all, this honestly became a much better situation for everyone.  It eliminated the possibility that the mechanics could be later implicated in “minimizing” the necessary inspections, and it also kept the responsibility with the pilot / student that had the overspeed.  See, that’s the subtle safety issue at play here.  That once an aircraft is down, that there is guilt and bad feelings all around and then maintenance starts buying into it and will push themselves to fix the problem or make it go away.  It’s the entrance to the rabbit hole of practices that will eventually lead to problems.

If you’ve ever worked in maintenance or even operations and have had an aircraft grounded for an over limit event, I’d like your thoughts.  Once I kind of dimly figured out what was going on mentally for everyone involved it became clear as day when it happened.  I could even feel my anxiety level rising when confronted with the situation and that became a red flag to go “hold on, what’s happening here.”  For me it became an exercise in not letting my desire to fix the problem turn into somehow accepting responsibility for the event itself.

Cheers – Johnny

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