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Understanding the Advantages of Preventive Avionics Maintenance

How preventive maintenance tasks can prevent extended aircraft downtime.

Aircraft avionics require special attention and great care regarding how they are serviced and when. Preventive avionics maintenance completed by trained technicians is a smart approach to ensure equipment longevity in an environment where replacement parts can be hard to source. One of the challenges to overcome in preventive maintenance of any kind is imagining the long-term benefits when it’s only possible to see the required upfront sacrifices of time and money. We are going to look at what is involved in both preventive and reactive avionics maintenance and how best to approach these two topics.

Avionics Require a Light Touch

Modern avionics components are sensitive pieces of equipment that are subject to damage through the course of both regular use and even during maintenance tasks if precautions aren’t taken. Temperature extremes, moisture, and electrostatic discharge (ESD) all pose a threat to the overall health of your valuable avionics suite. Preventive avionics maintenance starts with a well-educated base of operators (the pilots who utilize them) who understand how to take part in caring for equipment on the flight deck. Operators who, during the regular course of their duties, fail to take preventive measures to care for equipment can unnecessarily contribute to wear and tear on expensive avionics components. In a previous article, we touched on the importance of communication between aircraft maintenance personnel and the flight operations department which addresses this topic. Avionics interfaces such as buttons, screens, and switches are easily damaged from things like misuse and excessive force from operator inputs. Preventive maintenance starts with operators becoming educated in the concept of a light touch and, in the case of display screens, no touch whatsoever.

Preventive Maintenance Precautions 

Preventive maintenance serves many purposes, not least of which to reduce the probability of equipment malfunctions during regular operation. There is a distinct possibility, however, of damage occurring during regular preventive maintenance tasks. There are many avionics components for which manufacturers publish preventive maintenance guidance that technicians should follow. For each piece of equipment it is critical to consult technical manuals and follow manufacturer recommended procedures that promote longevity. Preventive maintenance on connective components, on the other hand, require trained technicians to have a more tacit and thorough understanding to successfully accomplish. Wiring harnesses that connect avionics to power sources and transmit data to other pieces of equipment in the system are susceptible to degradation from high temperatures and exposure to moisture and therefore require inspection and sometimes replacement. Wiring harnesses are hidden behind aircraft panels that protect them from the external environment and behind screens which can generate high levels of heat. These wiring harnesses can be permanently damaged from ESD during preventive maintenance and inspection, so it is critical to understand common mitigation techniques. Wearing ESD wrist straps and footwear made to prevent electrostatic buildup are industry standard techniques to prevent damage in addition to keeping components grounded when they are handled. It is important to know that ESD damaged components can pass tests on the ground and still show symptoms of malfunction in flight leading to increased aircraft downtime and erroneous methods of troubleshooting.

Reactive Avionics Maintenance 

Avionics components can and will reach a failure point despite efforts to prevent it. One simply cannot prevent every failure that might occur, even with regular preventive maintenance. While a reactive approach is not the best standalone strategy, there are ways to prepare for reactive efforts when they are needed. Knowing which connective hardware components or avionics software solutions are most likely to deteriorate among a particular fleet of aircraft is important. A small stock of common failure parts such as wiring harnesses, avionics cooling fans and radio tuning interface components provides technicians with a leg up to react quickly when an aircraft is grounded due to these wearable components reaching a point of failure. Certain larger components which contain sensitive circuitry are subject to a finite shelf life determined by the manufacturer and are therefore not viable to store for future use. Another important consideration is that components often reach a point of failure due to improper use. This cannot be predicted, but as we mentioned earlier, it can be significantly mitigated with a little communication and education geared towards the equipment operators.