Maintenance hanger. Credit: Ken Newman

+ It is high time airline operators improved the reliability of their fleets – there should be no such thing as an unexpected, unforeseen or unforeseeable technical failure.

When it comes to planes, there should be no such thing as an unexpected, unforeseen or unforeseeable technical failure. It is high time airline operators improved the reliability of their fleets.

The courts, it seems, agree with me – one recent ruling said that if a technical failure on a plane leads to a delay of over three hours it does not constitute “extraordinary circumstances”. In other words, failures such as these are not beyond an airline operator’s control and it is liable for compensation to passengers. 

Money, then, is a clear reason why airline operators should care about improving reliability. Compensation due to passengers on a Boeing 737 delayed on a short European flight would amount to £35,000 (excluding any hotels and meals). That’s three times the amount the airline would earn in fares for the flight. 

Airline operators should focus on identifying any and every opportunity for improvement. They should ask themselves: how can we improve reliability further and how can we sustain this every day? 

This requires a two-pronged approach. The first is detecting impending failure before it actually occurs using predict-and-prevent technology to monitor the aircrafts’ condition. The second is recovering from failures effectively to minimise the delay. 

Condition monitoring would enable airlines to create an optimum programme of maintenance and improvement works. In other words, it would catch the impending failures before they occur. This would give the airline time to order a replacement part, make staff available, and programme it into the maintenance cycle to minimise the time the plane is grounded. It is understood that the airplane manufacturers suggest this, however it seems that the airline operators themselves pay little attention to these high levels of analysis performed at the front end part of the design. 

Utilising and implementing the above will no doubt have a capital cost, but it will improve reliability, decrease downtime, and reduce compensation claims.