Sky Talk

Airline mechanics compete to be the fastest and safest

How fast can mechanics remove and replace an engine starter on a jet engine?

For American Airlines mechanics John Giglio and Andrew Tepoele, less than eight minutes.

The mechanics were part of American’s DFW team competing in the Snap-on Aerospace Maintenance Competition held in Dallas this week. There were 51 corporate and college teams competing to see who could fix aircraft windshields, place the correct tension in flight control cables and change a Gulfstream tire in the fastest time with the fewest errors.

“This reminds the public, and to an extent our own industry, of what we provide,” said Ken MacTeirnan, chairman of the competition. “After more than 100 years of aviation, technicians and engineers have stayed lock step with every advance in technology and we have to, to do our jobs...We’re taking this opportunity to provide a world stage where we, the AMC, can shine the light of recognition to say, guys and girls, thanks for all that you do.”

MacTeirnan, who is also an aircraft maintenance technician at American’s operations in San Diego, said the competition has been conducted for the past eight years and continues to grow as more companies, like Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Boeing and Qantas, send teams to the competition.

The competition also gives college students involved in aeronautical mechanics programs the chance to tackle difficult technical problems and to watch professionals practice their trade.

“It’s important to have younger people excited about this. ... We need to bring new blood into the aircraft mechanics field,” said Edward Kempa, a mechanic on American’s DFW team.

There are 25 events in which mechanics have 15 minutes to solve a problem and correctly perform a repair. American brought three teams to the event, one from Dallas/Fort Worth, another from Charlotte and a third from Tulsa. Southwest Airlines also had a mechanics team at the competition.

For Tepoele, who works at the DFW hangar for American, the hardest event was related to weights and balances because it involved different calculations and several formulas that commercial airlines typically have software programs perform.

“It’s a good challenge. It’s something to learn,” Tepoele said. “I’ve been doing this now for 33 years and you can never stop learning.”