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Common lapses in aircraft maintenance and how they can be prevented.

Updated: Mar 12

September 23, 2022 | By Commander Vimal Nagpal (retired), Naval Aviation Veteran and Aerospace Industry Expert at Gravitas Consulting | Aerospace

Common Lapses In Aircraft Maintenance and How They Can Be Prevented


For optimal operation of any machine, it needs regular maintenance. In aviation, the maintenance work is highly regulated and critical to the airworthiness of the aircraft. After a certain time of usage or operation, maintenance tasks have to be carried out on all aircraft be it commercial aircraft or military aircraft.

Specific maintenance programs are followed when performing maintenance tasks.

Military aircraft maintenance programs may or may not, be similar to those of commercial and civil aircraft.

To ensure the desired operation and airworthiness the following activities are key:

  • Inspection

  • Overhaul

  • Defect rectification

  • Replacement, ensuring that the correct part numbers are used

  • Manufacturer approved modifications

Regulatory Authorities

Aircraft maintenance is highly regulated and is carried out under stringent standards, keeping in mind the safety of aircraft and its continued airworthiness.

In civil aviation, the regulations are in tune with international standards. Prominent airworthiness regulatory authorities include the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), Transport Canada (TC), and Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

Local airworthiness authorities must incorporate ICAO standards for maintenance checks, inspection, and personnel.

Maintenance staff must be listed and certified by these local authorities.

On the other hand, each country has its own military inspection authority and personnel that are responsible for maintenance as per their listed maintenance practices.

Common Lapses in Aircraft Maintenance

The underlying principle in maintenance is the airworthiness, safety, and optimum/desired functionality of equipment to carry out commercial activities by commercial aircraft and military operations by military aircraft.

Aircraft Checks

Each type of aircraft manufacturer and airline has its airworthiness specifications peculiar to the aircraft and has Continues Airworthiness Maintenance Program (CAMP) which includes routine and detailed inspections commonly known as checks.

Aircraft Checks

Checks can be categorized as A, B, C, and D checks. A and B checks are lighter checks while C and D checks are considered heavy checks. Airlines or operators generally undertake lighter checks at their facilities while heavy checks are conducted at Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities.

Smaller MROs have peculiar problems despite following the checklists.

They face the challenge of insufficient stock of spares and the range of serviceable parts in their inventory.
In addition, they may not have specific test beds to undertake the standard serviceability test (SST).

In addition, smaller MROs can face the shortage of specialists required to test the wide range of equipment fitted on aircraft.

Maintenance Errors

The list of maintenance errors is long and can not be standardized. The most commonly occurring errors are:

  • Loose object or tool left behind

  • Incorrect installation of components

  • Fitting of a wrong part

  • Inadequate lubrication

  • Post maintenance panels, cowlings not secured

  • Oil or fuel caps not properly secured

  • Seals, bolts, and pipes are not properly fitted.

  • Wiring not done properly

The above-listed errors can be classified into broadly three categories:

1. Installation errors
2. Human factors
3. Training

1. Installation errors

Installation errors usually occur due to inattention, and poor installation due to inspection standards and approved data not being followed thoroughly.

Over 70% of errors can be attributed to improper installation.

At times, installation mistakes are not easily visible making them more difficult to detect and rectify.

2. Human factors

Maintenance errors due to human factors are varied and complex. Human conditions are very important in aviation maintenance.

Complacency, fatigue, and stress are the most important contributing factors to human error by maintenance personnel. Other factors include inexperience, communication error, and taking a shortcut.

They not only affect the safety of aircraft but can cause injury or accidents to maintenance personnel.

Aviation Maintenance

Maintainers often work early morning or late evening hours in confined spaces under adverse weather temperatures and humidity requiring strong attention to detail to complete maintenance tasks, which can be strenuous and increase the probability of errors.

Aircraft Maintainers

This can lead to complacency, slips, and memory lapses where a procedure could be wrongly carried out.

Documentation of the maintenance work is very important in aviation maintenance, it not only ensures that work is carried out following the checklist of the maintenance manual but also helps to investigate agencies to trace back the work in case of a mishap.

Hence, the aircraft maintenance team spends sufficient time on documentation.

3. Training

Maintenance errors can be significantly reduced by continuous training, practice, and supervision.

The most effective way to counter errors is continuous learning, training, and reinforcement in a stress-free environment.

The maintenance supervisors need to be mindful of the pressure when scheduling a maintenance check and be aware of the time involved in a particular check with understanding the scope of work involved. The supervisors should schedule the work in advance with a realistic time frame. They should not apply undue pressure to get the job done as it involves the safety of aircraft and crew.

Despite regulated maintenance, mistakes sometimes do occur leading to safety issues that can have unfortunate and tragic consequences.

Because there is no set pattern for maintenance errors, they can not be fully eliminated. However, they can be reduced to a minimum. Maintainers must strive hard to follow the procedures with high alertness and maintain the aircraft fly safe condition always. Investing in regular training and establishing the right mindset towards safety can prevent maintenance errors, thereby minimizing the chances of catastrophic incidents.

About the author

Commander Vimal Nagpal is a retired Naval veteran with over 35 years of experience in Aerospace, Business Development, Operations, and Leadership.

Vimal believes in leading from the front and leveraging his strong acumen for developing teams for business growth. During his career in the Navy and the commercial sector, Vimal has set up and led new organizations, establishing strategic plans, procedures, and operations successfully. Vimal is the Aerospace Industry expert at Gravitas Consulting.

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