Monday, June 11, 2007

Safety a Core Issue at MAS

THE year 2006 was declared the safest in the airline industry with one accident occurring for every 1.5 million flights. The accident rate globally has fallen to half from what it was a decade ago.

More and more airlines around the world comply with international standards on safety so that they can keep flying passengers.

An aircraft undergoing repairs at the hangar in Subang.
The International Air Transport Association – a grouping of airlines – continues to raise the bar on safety standards.

Modern aircraft are also built with a high degree of redundancies to tolerate a level of failure and defects are minimised by periodic checks undertaken by carriers. It would take too many defects unfixed and a multitude of other factors for an aircraft to blow up mid-air.

“Modern jet engines are very reliable and they rarely fail, and it takes a lot of contributing factors such as bad weather, system failure and misheard air traffic control commands to cause accidents. Very few are related to maintenance accidents,’’ said Malaysia Airlines (MAS) director of operations Peter Read, who was a pilot for over 25 years.

Read said MAS fleet was well maintained and safety standards were not compromised just because the airline had to re-align its cost as part of the company’s business turnaround plan.

“We did not cut cost but rather optimised our cost, and our aircraft are so reliable. We operate well within the boundaries of safety,’’ added senior general manager of engineering and maintenance Mohd Roslan Ismail.

Nonetheless, when there is a defect, it needs to be attended to, and no airline would leave a defect unattended for long or a failure to persist. Fixing it up means the airline can fly the plane, as keeping it on the ground simply means loss of revenue.

On cost cutting, the airline did sell spares as it was deemed to be holding too many when the new managing director, Datuk Idris Jala, took over the helm of the airline 18 months ago.

“We did sell, but they were obsolete and we phased out items of older models of aircraft such as the DC 10 and B737-200. There were an engine and several seats. We did not have a large stock of engines and we did not sell any engines except one. We did make some gains from the disposal but it was not too much,’’ Read said.

Given that an aircraft is made of “tens of thousands of components,’’ an airline has to keep stock of certain spares. Roslan said there were three categories of spares – active, slow moving and non-moving.

The active spares are the fast-moving spares and an airline needs to keep 95% stock of this category of spares. Ninety-two per cent of items that are not used frequently or slow moving must be held by airlines. The non-moving are those disposable spares and an airline needs to keep 90% of this category.

Spares aside, Roslan said, the daily routine of checking aircraft was done rigorously.

Maintenance checks constitute A-to-D checks. The A check is conducted when the airline clocks in 600 hours, which can be every 24 hours or a few days, and this is done to check for any defects.

Check B is done when the airline clocks in 1,200 hours, that is, within the 3-6 months' timeframe. A C check is when the airline clocks in 3,000 flying hours, which is normally after a year. D is the biggest check, which involves overhaul of every part and component, and the plane is stripped off everything and re-fixed after every part is overhauled or replaced. This is done every four to five years.

Roslan said the lifespan of a short-haul aircraft was 15-20 years and the long-haul carrier could be used for more than 20 years, but the latest B777 could go on for nearly 30 years before they had to be grounded for good.

“There could be one or two aircraft across our fleet that may have a defect or two, but that is well within what the industry standards allow for,’’ Read said.

Checking goes beyond the daily, weekly, monthly or yearly routines. In fact, every time a plane takes off, it is monitored by the MAS engineering team by the second. The next day meetings are convened to study the pattern of each flying aircraft for any potential problems.

“So safety is taken very seriously by an airline. Or else it would be mocking itself, for when disaster happens, it is not just the confidence level in an airline that erodes but regaining that confidence can take a while and airlines depend on passengers for their survival,’’ said an industry official.

Source : STAR
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