American Airlines Lindsay Bjerregaard/AW&ST
American Airlines’ nose number 8AH, the airline’s eighth Boeing 787, at a Chicago O’Hare Airport gate.

How American Measures Line Maintenance at Chicago O'Hare

What happens on the ground to keep American’s flights on time at one of the world’s busiest airports.

For American Airlines, managing and keeping 208 mainline departures and 290 regional departures per day from 66 gates during the peak summer season from Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) requires precise coordination of people, parts and aircraft.

In addition, “No gate is left open for more than 25 min. to maximize flights during the summer,” says Rich Williams, American’s senior manager for technical operations at ORD, so operations are measured by the minute.

American’s 450 mechanics and 50 crew chiefs at the busy Chicago airport operate in three shifts—6 a.m., 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.—plus some specialty crews such as engine change (American keeps spare GEnx, CFM56 and JT8D engines here) and terminal night crews. A unique feature to American’s ORD line maintenance operation is its oxygen servicing, done with hydrostatic tests. The night shift is the largest, with crew shifts meeting in the war room to plan the night.

The airline uses “operating rhythm,” visual metrics also deployed at its bases in Dallas and Miami, that outline key performance goals that the line maintenance team should strive to meet to “connect the front line to the bottom line,” says David Orban, ORD director of technical operations for the airline. When Inside MRO visited American’s operation, the goal for out-of-service aircraft was four or fewer. It also measures no fix, no fly; critical items; MELs (minimum equipment list); on-time departures (goal is 94.1%); ETOPS (extended twin-engine operations); and “right-start performance,” a metric for 5-9 a.m. departures—because “if you launch early flights on time, the performance is better throughout the day,” says Orban.

Lindsay Bjerregaard/AW&STAmerican Airlines

American Airlines’ nose number 8AH, the airline’s eighth Boeing 787, at a Chicago O’Hare Airport gate.

American operates its own tower at ORD, its command center, which monitors aircraft movements in 1-min. blocks—from landing to arrival at gates, turn times (which can be thrown off by later or early arrivals), arrival of mechanics and parts at a gate, vendor partners—such as catering and fueling—and customer care activities. The bustling, monitor-filled ORD command center operation is a local version of American’s integrated operations center at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

Cameras at each gate allow shift managers to monitor an aircraft’s arrival, as well as the ramp to see activities in real time, via Milestone video software, says Jim Jurewicz, a shift manager. Because ORD is one of American’s hubs and it holds eight widebody departure slots for international operations, ETOPS checks, which have to be performed at the gate and need to be finished in 2 hr. or less and no more than a few hours before a flight, are a staple here. 

American assigns three mechanics to an ETOPS check: one for the interior, one for the exterior and one to support whatever is needed.

During Inside MRO’s visit, mechanics were doing an ETOPS pre-departure check on 8AW, the nose number of a Boeing 787-800. As a practice, American hooks up three power sources to a 787 so it can “think for itself.”

On the exterior, they look for obvious damage such as bird or lightning strikes, make sure pitot tubes are unobstructed and check for damage to the radome, wheel wells and tires, among others. Maintenance technicians service fluids—measuring oil in teaspoons to precisely monitor oil consumption and engine trends. In the interior, mechanics view the logbook, address items from previous flights as well as any MELs, if doing so would not disrupt the next flight.

They do not delve into fixes that a deeper overnight check would address, but they do correct galley items—such as a chiller that is not cold enough—as well as malfunctioning seats, lavatory issues and items noted by pilots.

Americans’ maintenance operation at ORD should be simplified next year—probably in the second or third quarter—once its new Hangar 2 is finished. Its two hangars will be side by side with a connector building for storage. Right now, people have to travel over active taxiways between the airline’s two hangars.

In addition to the location improvement, technicians in the new Hangar 2, designed by Ghafari architects, will be able to access power, air and water at the floor for each aircraft instead of accessing them through the wall or overhead, as is done now. Half of the new hangar will feature an overhead crane, so heavy lifting—for things such as flight controls and radomes—will become easier, as well. American also has ramp space to park 20-25 aircraft at night.

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