Even one misplaced item can pose a serious hazard.
When do you realize you don’t have all your tools accounted for? Is it on the drive home, when you have that gut feeling that something’s not right? Is it when the pilot or next mechanic finds it on a preflight or daily inspection? Let’s hope it’s not during an accident investigation.
Routine tool and hardware accountability is one safe practice that seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes we become distracted and leave tools or other hardware on an aircraft.
Strict Accountability for Each Tool
Aviation has come a long way in tool control over my years in the industry. In the early 1980s, I was a member of a helicopter squadron that implemented a program of tool control that mandated that the entire squadron would be grounded if even one tool wasn’t accounted for.
Every tool used on an aircraft was signed out of the tool room. Before that aircraft was released for flight, every tool signed out had to be logged back in. We all thought these measures were extreme.
Sometimes we’d receive a phone call in the late-night hours that required a drive back to the hangar to return the socket or small tool that we’d forgotten about in our pocket and didn’t notice as we checked in our other tools. Over time, however, we learned the value of this best practice and the consequences of poor tool accountability.
As has been said before, most, if not all, aviation regulations or rules are written in blood. Poor tool control has been attributed to many aviation accidents over the decades.
There’s a well-known story of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis airplane having a pair of pliers in the airframe that seemingly was left during the building of the aircraft at Ryan Airlines or possibly used by Lindbergh himself on his famous flight from New York to Paris in 1927. The pliers were found when the aircraft was being prepared for display at the Smithsonian Institution.
Don’t Forget Hardware and Debris
Tool control should also encompass other relevant items the aviation mechanic or engineer is working with, such as hardware. I once had smoke in the cockpit of an aircraft just after takeoff. Upon landing back at the airport from which I departed, I began a search for what caused the smoke. After about six hours of searching over two days, I found a very small nut that had fallen from someplace unknown to me and lodged itself between two poles on the master switch, causing the circuit to short and burn some wires coming from the electrical master circuit.
I looked for a long time, hoping to see where the nut came from, but every instrument had corresponding hardware, and nothing was missing. My suspicion is that at some point over the aircraft’s long history, a technician lost the nut during a panel upgrade, couldn’t find it, and replaced it with another nut, leaving the original for me to find on my fateful fight.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated occurrence. Parts bags have been filled with pieces of safety wire, nuts, screws, bolts, washers, and cotter pins that were left behind after being abandoned during past maintenance.
This author isn’t above reproach. Just last week, I was removing the battery from an aircraft for a local airplane owner. After the battery removal, we engaged in typical hangar chat. After leaving the owner’s hangar and checking my toolbox, I realized I had left a quarter-inch drive ratchet and half-inch socket on the wing of his Cessna 310. Perfect tool control, like so many aspects of safety, is a goal to be pursued every day, and every day you start anew.
Having a place for every tool, using foam shadowing to clearly indicate what’s missing, and asking for a second set of eyes to verify it’s a clean and complete job with all tools accounted for will save you from worry and embarrassment—and from being part of an accident investigation.
Please contact HAI for information on helpful safety programs and literature such as our new tool control safety poster (p. 69) and our soon-to-be-added HAI Maintenance Safety Management System (SMS) program. The program, originally designed for Part 145 repair stations but now adaptable to line maintenance as well, is just one of many safety resources we continue to add to our lineup to support HAI members’ needs.
HAI operator members interested in participating in the HAI Maintenance SMS program can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.