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NEWS | March 29, 2006

‘Another set of eyes’ keep Airmen safe

By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

They say you’re supposed to check the wheel wells, the safety belts and the tires before starting a long trip, but that’s usually when you’re riding in an Impala -- not a 747.

But, those and 37 other items are on the 1st Maintenance Group Quality Assurance Ramp inspection checklist for inspecting civilian aircraft contracted to carry military members and their families.

Aircraft Pre-flight Inspection managers routinely travel to Chambers Field at Naval Station Norfolk to perform safety inspections two hours before a contracted aircraft is scheduled to leave.

“A lot of Air Force people have taken these flights,” said Leland James, 1st MXG Quality Assurance inspection manager. “The ones we inspect are the rotators to Keflavik, Iceland, rotators to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the rotator to Italy and Bahrain.”

The program is run by Air Mobility Command. However, because there are no AMC units nearby, ACC has been tasked to provide inspectors for the Hampton and Norfolk areas.

“To TDY inspectors, that often isn’t cost effective,” said Colin Dunnigan, 1st MXG Quality Assurance. “So, ACC took over. We’re another set of eyes, making sure everything is in place, and Uncle Sam is getting his money’s worth.”

Quality Assurance inspect about five aircraft a week at any hour of the day.

“Saturday, we have one at 5 a.m.,” Mr. James said, “and another at 9 p.m. We arrive at the aircraft two hours prior to departure and remain there to ensure it doesn’t break and another aircraft replaces it, which would also need to be inspected prior to departure.”

“What’s at stake is that GIs and their families fly on them,” Mr. Dunnigan said.

The stakes are high enough for AMC to direct units to only appoint highly-qualified, 7-level noncommissioned officers or civilians with a maintenance primary Air Force Specialty Code.

“The qualification is not easy to get and is very sought after,” said Mr. James. “There are not many maintainers who are given this opportunity.”

The inspectors don’t just look at the machines involved, but also the people.

“We interview the pilot to verify that certain systems are operating properly,” said Mr. James.

If there is a problem, corrective action is immediate.

“Problems are few and very rare,” Mr. James assured. “At any time needed, the airline corrects the problem and verifies the condition of the aircraft with the technical data for the aircraft. If we have any problems that are not corrected to the inspector’s satisfaction, there is a 24-hour hotline to the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C., that we use to resolve them.”

“The aircraft we inspect are provided by the top aircraft carriers in the U.S. like Continental, Delta and American,” Mr. James said. “As everyone in aircraft maintenance knows, another set of eyes doesn’t hurt.”