Aircraft maintenance is an area where process and regimented guidelines are for obvious reasons of great importance, however it is also an area which some believe should be open to innovations which in many cases could be classed as violations.
In this episode of the Defence Connect Podcast, host Phil Tarrant chats with one such supporter of that theory. Former RAAF Officer Tony Bannister-Tyrrell, now a senior consultant for Coras, shares how his time as the P3 Orion Senior Maintenance Manager for Australian Aerospace has led him to completing a PhD on traversing the breach between innovation and violation in aircraft maintenance.
Tony shares how maintenance is currently being conducted across the industry, why such strict regulations can be detrimental to technicians and to the trade, and discusses his study plans to showcase why identifying violations can ultimately result in improved processes.
Enjoy the podcast,
The Defence Connect team.
Listen to previous episodes of the Defence Connect podcast:
Episode 316: PODCAST: The worsening geostrategic environment
Episode 315: PODCAST: News wrap – Strengthening maritime capability
Episode 314: SPOTLIGHT: Unpacking the Aegis combat weapons system, with Lockheed Martin Australia’s Neale Prescott and Rob Milligan
Episode 313: PODCAST: Building a regional maritime hub, with Babcock’s Brad Yelland
Episode 312: SPOTLIGHT: Building a stronger RAN with Gareth Evans, managing director of Rohde & Schwarz Australia
Episode 311: PODCAST: The healing power of sport
Episode 310: PODCAST: Building a defence hub in Hunter, with Tim Owen
Episode 309: PODCAST: The long road to Invictus Games 2022
Episode 308: PODCAST: Assessing the government’s defence policy, with Senator Rex Patrick
Episode 307: PODCAST: Invictus Australia — Michael Hartung, OAM, CEO Invictus Australia
Announcer: Welcome to the Defence Connect Podcast with your host, Phil Tarrant.
Phil Tarrant: Oh g’day everyone, it's Phil Tarrant, host of the Defence Connect podcast. Thanks for joining us today.
We're gonna get into the aviation world today, a very specific ... We've been chatting a lot, recently, about a lot of the major programs, which have either been decided to or about to be decided within defence and defence industry. Obviously, the LAN 400 Phase 2 recently announced. We're all anticipating the decision around the SEA 5000 Future Frigates program. And my read on it, and discussion within the industry, is that no one particularly knows the way it's gonna head. So, it is a very fierce competition and we at Defence Connect, like the rest of you, await that decision from government, which I believe is gonna be handed down sort of April/May. So, watch this space for it.
Today we're going aircraft and, in particular, aircraft maintenance. And I've asked someone to come into the studio who's gonna share his ideas and observations around innovation in aircraft maintenance based on some of the work he's doing, right now, with his PhD. Tony Bannister-Tyrrell is a senior consultant from Coras. How you goin' Tony?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Yeah, good. Thanks, Phil.
Phil Tarrant: So, you've decided after many years of work in aircraft maintenance to actually go to university and do a PhD and undertake or tackle quite considerable thesis around traversing the breach between innovation and violation in aircraft maintenance. So, only someone who has been a aircraft maintainer would take on something like this, I imagine. It's very practical, but also very academic at the same time.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Yeah, Phil. So, part of ... When I first sort of submitted my research proposal to Uni of New Castle, it was very much from a practitioner's perspective. Having spent time as a senior maintenance manager, I came to it with an ... My belief was that I just needed a better checklist, a better procedure, in order to look at this innovation in aviation maintenance.
Having then started the PhD, and being bashed by my supervisors over ... you need to take a theoretical and a philosophical approach to it, not just a practitioner's approach, to start to have a look at what is the underlying decision mechanisms that the techos are using to arrive at an innovative solution. As distinct from simply doing a process, not in accordance with the publication, simply to get home early ... You know, for their personal gain ... But to look at an innovation which actually improves the process or improves the task outcome.
Phil Tarrant: So, the purpose of today's chat is just to really understand and, I guess, fill in our listeners who might not be familiar with ... Obviously, innovation is spoken a lot about within Defence and defence industry. But what we're talking about here is, essentially, undertaking the maintenance of aircraft more efficiently through innovation. So, what is innovation in aircraft maintenance and we'll get to that.
Just ... I'm a very visual guy ... So, aircraft maintenance is the mandatory, statutory servicing of aircraft to make sure it is air-worthy. And I've never maintained an aircraft in my life. I've flown a lot of aircraft, so, it's good to know that there is a process in place to make sure that they stay in the air.
Could you just run our listeners through the way in which maintenance is undertaken. Just to paint a picture for us. So, there is a manual, a set of rules that says this how any particular task should take place. Is that pretty much the way it goes through
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Well, yeah. So, an aircraft comes in for servicing ... And it's planned servicing or routine servicing. There's a set of guidelines for how that activity is to be undertaken, and there is a set of procedures and rules about which that maintenance is to be conducted. In a lot of these cases, these publications or the maintenance manuals are subject to change, they are subject to amendment. But in some cases, over a long period in the aviation, some of these processes do take a while to get amended. In some cases, the actual process for doing those amendments is quite time consuming.
There has been a number of academics who have researched this where they've found that there is still a tendency, for some techos, to write good ideas down in their own notebooks. Call them aide-memoires, call them black books, personal notebooks. These things that ... The way that they keep this data is an unapproved source. But some of that information is gold! From an innovation perspective, in order to be able to capture that innovation and to capitalise on it, we need to bring those innovations into the light of day rather than simply being locked up in somebody's black book. The other problem is, from an aviation safety perspective, simply having that document in somebody's back pocket, you've got no way of tracing the maintenance that's actually being conducted.
Phil Tarrant: When I was thinking about having a chat with you today, I wrote down catch-22. Every single process, every single part of the fancy, fancy industrial business in general, innovation is at its core. You want to continually innovate, but the rules and regulations around aircraft maintenance is that, here is the best practise and it should be done this particular way. You're talking about black books, so someone would find a better way to doing it now, and make their own note. Some sort of, maybe, shortcut—probably the wrong word—to get to a better outcome more efficiently. How do you continue to innovate when you've got to do it within the rules and guidelines? If you come up with a better way, you're not supposed to really be doing it a better way because the way it should be done is being dictated by someone previously. So, bit of a moot point.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Absolutely. So, when we talk about innovation in aviation, one of the drivers behind what I'm talking about is that, that is still a violation. So, even if we innovate? Without approval, it is still a violation.
One of the outcomes of my research is to actually categorise what I'm terming an innovative violation. Because, if it's unapproved, it's still a violation. The issue, for me, is about identifying that innovative violation. Yes, dealing with the problem that we have that we've got uncontrolled maintenance being conducted but also, if that innovation should be shared, how do we share that and get that approved and into a publication without delay? Certainly, part of my research to date has indicated the time taken to get that approval process is a detriment to the techos who want to get that innovation sourced and approved.
Phil Tarrant: What's the baseline now, or the guidelines now, to take a violation, an innovative violation—which is the categorization you're talking about—all the way through to that's now the recognised process for doing a particular task? How does that happen now? Does someone set the rules for that?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Yeah. Well, they have set the rules, to a certain extent. If a techo comes up with an innovative idea, then the first process is, is they seek to get it approved. Now that may be a peer review through supervisors at work at the techo level, or through a maintenance supervisor. Largely, it needs it go through an airworthiness approval process. So, this is going off to a design engineer to actually go through the process of being approved ... Reviewed and approved.
Where that doesn't happen is where we're falling through the cracks. So, they shouldn't actually conduct the process until it's been approved. You come up with a better way of doing it, you submit that, you still go and do the task in accordance with the publication, you sign for it in accordance with the publication. Once it's gone through the approval process, then the next time you do that task, you can do it in accordance with the new process.
The problem that we also have is that, even if we do have a better way of doing it, when they go to certify for that work, they're signing to say that they've completed that task in accordance with the maintenance publication. Largely, there is no option for them to say they've done it in a different way. Because the rules and regulations state that you will do it in accordance with the publication. You can't say that you've done it slightly differently to the publication or explain how you've deviated, because it's still an unapproved, so it's still a violation.
So, the process really starts with getting it approved. If we don't get it approved, then it's still a violation.
Phil Tarrant: So, innovation in aircraft maintenance ... What is the benefit of innovation? I imagine time is one benefit. Doing something quicker? Which could be, therefore, translated into doing something cheaper because there's less man-hours associated with it. But what are the other benefits for a focus on innovation in aircraft maintenance?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: It could well be efficiency. So, could use less spares. It could use less ... More effective, so it's using a slightly different piece of test equipment, which is a lot cheaper, or easier to get, or easier to maintain. It's also doing it safer.
There may well be, when you think about aircraft publications are written by lots of different companies. They're written for aircraft manufacturers, largely. People are doing maintenance at different levels within that. So, an argument has been, from a lot of the heavy maintenance areas, that a lot of the publications are written for the flight line maintenance, the operational maintenance, the day-to-day weekly maintenance, not the maintenance that comes around every three to four years.
Some of the flight line people will talk about well we only get to do the black box changes, we never get to understand what it is that makes that black box tick.
Finding a balance between the way the maintenance manuals are written is also a problem for the manufacturers and for the people that operate those. Again, it's finding that balance. And then ... You just ... Trying to establish where the boundary lies between what is an effective publication and what is a poor publication.
You then get the other problem where ... Largely, aviation maintenance personnel are rule abiders. If you've gone through your basic training and you've managed to graduate from whatever course that you undertook, largely we understand there are rules around maintenance. So, you are largely rule abiders. But if procedures are written poorly, then people with experience, or competence, or knowledge will tend to adapt. Likewise, if you write procedures that are absolutely specific but they have errors in them, and you have techos that are completely rule abiders, then they will follow that procedure even though they know it's wrong.
I can give a little bit of an example. One of the examples that was given to me was that, in an aircraft task it said that they had to bleed the brakes. And in that process of bleeding the brakes, they had to ... The publication or the procedure said to use a certain steel bucket. Well, the guys didn't have a certain steel bucket. They had a plastic bucket. They wouldn't do the task until they had a steel bucket. But, it's hydraulic oil. Waste hydraulic oil can go into a plastic bucket. But because the procedure said, "Thou shalt use a steel bucket," they-
Phil Tarrant: Stuck to the rules.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: They stuck to the rules. So, they wouldn't do it. In other cases, somebody who uses a plastic bucket who is then working for a maintenance manager who is a rule abider may have deemed them to be violators because they had used their own initiative to say, "Well, we need to get the task done. We'll use a plastic bucket instead of a steel bucket." So there are some problems with the way procedures are written and we need to understand the relationship between the people that we've got working and how those procedures fit in. So, I think there is need, there does need to be some innovation applied. It's about how we track and capitalise on that innovation.
Phil Tarrant: Is the foundation of your thesis saying innovation in aircraft maintenance is a critical need? That's okay, it's okay to innovate in aircraft maintenance?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Yes. I'm saying innovation is a good thing. What I'm saying on top of that, though, innovation is a good thing but at the same time we need to capture that and share that innovation. But I'm still saying that an innovation unapproved is a violation. So, we're still capturing that under the regulatory framework and within the safety management framework but it's still about identifying those violations and capitalising on them.
Phil Tarrant: What's the appetite for regulatory bodies, I imagine CASA and also the respective organisation within the Department of Defence. Do they view innovation in aircraft maintenance as something which also needs to precipitate? So, we need more of it done. Is their challenge, though, is that how and where those changes get captured and how they get translated so that it's scalable out to everyone else? Is this the grey area?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: Okay.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: The issue is ... We need to have the innovation, but we need to capture the innovation before it's applied ... So that there is a rigorous engineering process, an airworthiness process, that follows that innovation to make sure that it is approved prior to somebody going off and doing it.
The other part that comes in to play in that is if you're working for an organisation. In some organisations, there is some latitude for the senior maintainer to be able to approve a deviation, within scope, of a maintenance procedure. So then, the techos can go off and enact that change because it's been approved locally. If they then go ... there is a change of that senior person ... And that senior person coming on then reviews all of the authorizations that the previous person has made, and disagrees, and decides we're going to take that back, there is at least an opportunity to go back. On the aircraft that have been serviced during that period, to go back and check those aircraft that would have had that maintenance completed.
Where the grey area then comes in again, is that the techos who have been using that new procedure may be wedded to that new procedure. And don't want to change back. Then, we get going back into the black books, the aide-memoires, the personal notebooks.
So, there is some areas there that just need to be reviewed because not all maintenance managers are created risk equal, if I can say that. Certainly there is risk tolerance, there's risk avoiders. So, in that area of risk, we just need to identify where some of those innovations fit in and where we capture versus quash them.
Phil Tarrant: And do you feel as though, talk about the regulatory bodies, do you feel as though they need to modernise or advance the way they can take a potential piece of innovation to codify it and say, "This is now established best practise." Do you think something needs to happen at that end where there is resourcing to get ... Because I imagine it's the speed of innovation as well so someone has a bright idea that can have great impact if it's applied to other aircraft right across Australia or globally. What needs to happen to speed up the process or reduce the red tape so things could move faster?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: If you were doing maintenance on a Beechcraft Skipper at Scone Aero Club and you want to innovate the process there? Well, Beech aircraft is a massive organisation, it's got thousands of aircraft worldwide. It'd be unlikely that you writing to Beech is going to bring about a change in their procedure.
So, there are some ways that we need to have a look at improving the process. And, I think when you look at ... Certainly in the way, defence their move from the particularly worded risk management manual to the DASR—the defence aviation safety regulations—they're being innovative in their approach to maintenance already, in looking at it from a maintenance management perspective.
I think organisations are open to innovation, it's just about how we get that message through to the techos to make sure that the techos understand the innovation and then understand the requirements to get that approved, and to bring it out into the open. So, at the very least, that it gets a peer review locally to understand whether or not ... Hang on. Stop. You need to move on, or let's take that to the next step.
Phil Tarrant: And how would you compare defence with civilian sector around the attitude towards innovation? Is defence more nimble when it comes to innovation in aircraft maintenance than outside of defence?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: In some ways ... Because defence has quite a different mix of aircraft. Part of my previous life in air force was working on the Caribou-
Phil Tarrant: Okay. You kept that thing in the air for a long time!
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: So, that was kept in the air for a long time. The other aircraft, clearly, state of the art ... And there's an update.
In the general aviation area, lots of those aircraft are similar vintage to the Caribou. In the general aviation sense, there's not a lot of new money coming into that area. So, some of those aircraft are very old.
Then, within the commercial airlines, obviously, they're turning them over reasonably quickly in commercial. But, largely, it's a takeoff, cruise, land. Whereas defence are using their aircraft more rigorously-
Phil Tarrant: Different purposes, yeah.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: I think, across the board, there are different processes in place but I don't know that we could come up with one set standard.
Phil Tarrant: And the need for innovation ... We spoke on it earlier, as in the benefits for innovation but, often, people try to innovate for the sake of innovation's sake. Whereas you've got established procedures for aircraft maintenance ... A particular aircraft, type A, often there's no need to really change what we're doing. It's okay as it is right now. The benefits of innovating is not outweighed by the actual result you would get from it. So, how do you weigh these off each other to say to an aircraft maintenance engineer, say, just do what the manual says, don't deviate from it. But then, you're stifling the potential for—I don't want to use the word creativity—but looking at problems differently. So, again, that's another catch-22.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: There's different ways that different organisation do that. In some cases, you would have an organisation that would then do a review of the ... If there was a significant change that was proposed in the way the planned servicing schedule was going to run? They would conduct a review separate to the normal maintenance and then propose changes. And that would then, for the next time that aircraft came in, it would be under the new planned servicing schedule. That's a substantial change.
Where some of these changes occur is in the very small tasks. A task may have 10 steps in it and the techo, instead of going through doing steps one to ten, we've found there's some evidence that on a particular task, the techos were starting at step three, doings four and five, then going back to step one, two, and three, and then going on to step six. And so, they were actually doing it out of sequence. In effect, at the end of the day, they're signing out to say that they've done all ten steps. Hand on heart, yep, I've done-
Phil Tarrant: Done the tasks.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: I've done the task. But, the reality is, they're not doing it in accordance with the publication, which says you do it in steps one to ten sequentially.
Phil Tarrant: It's a violation.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: So, it is. If we were to look at it from a regulatory perspective, it's indeed a violation. If we understand the innovation of that, why do they start at three ... And if it were sent through for an approval, then that can be deemed to be an innovative violation. We say that we can now capture it, we rework the procedure, so that it makes sense to start at three. Three, four, five, one, two, and six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
Where we have a problem is that, if there is some longer term benefit from doing it one to ten, which the techos and the immediate supervisors aren't seeing it by doing it starting at three, which can only be understood by engineering rigour or looking back to why that task originated being one to ten. The techo may not have that information available to them. So, we end up back in this vicious cycle of the potential for latent failures. Even though they have completed the task one to ten, it may be a case of they're doing some other embedding into the system a latent failure, which, at some point, may or may not materialise. But it still hasn't been done accordanced with the manufacturer's specification.
Phil Tarrant: So, if I decide to become an aircraft maintenance engineer ... I'll stop what I'm doing today, doing podcasts, and say that's the new career for me. And I rock up at my first day at college where I start undertaking my trade. Do they try and strip a culture of innovation out of people that work within this particular field from day dot and say, "Your job is to follow process and procedure," or do they say, "Innovation's okay" if it's okay to innovate in this case? How is the culture of innovation ... How can we capture this and drive it forward but still stay true to the cause in terms of the needs of a systemized process to aircraft maintenance?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: My take on that is that we would instill in the junior techos the requirement to follow the maintenance publication. If there is an area in the maintenance publications that they don't understand or they feel there is a problem with it? To raise that.
Part of my research is I'm looking as to whether or not you could, in fact, generate what I'm referring to as a safe innovation zone. Within that safe innovation zone, is there potential ... And the diagram I've got of it, where I've explained it, it's a bit of a fluffy cloud because it currently has no boundaries. Well, no firm boundaries. And I'm arguing that, that safe innovation zone would be dependent on the skillsets, the knowledge, the competency, and, indeed, the character of the person that you are authorising to make some assumptions about is it safe to innovate within the delegated authority of that safe innovation zone.
In this case here, you wouldn't be handing that to a first year apprentice. You are most probably not handing that to a junior technician. I'm talking about an authorization for someone who is senior in the organisation, from a maintainers. Someone who has demonstrated an understanding that they can understand and apply a risk-based approach to that maintenance activity. And also, to a point where, their character says if I come into trouble or there is something I'm confused about, I won't simply push on regardless. I'll seek some higher guidance.
To me, that's the aim of where I would like to get to. So that the foundations of aviation, is you do in accordance with the publication, innovation needs to come in once you've got knowledge, experience, and competency to make those value judgements.
Phil Tarrant: And your thesis, therefore, argues that innovation is okay as long as it's done on the basis that you are well positioned to undertake the innovation. When do you submit your draft paper? I imagine it will be a draft?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: The 12th of October.
Phil Tarrant: 12th of October. So, you submit it and then you'll sit in front of a panel of esteemed experts that will probably give you a hard time about it. So-
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Well, no. That's the good thing about ... Some of the universities still have an in-person defence of it. It's called a viva voce or something, I think. Newcastle just sends it off to be marked, to a number of esteemed markers. Then I sit back and wait for the corrections to come in.
Phil Tarrant: When your thesis is marked by these esteemed markers, where ever they are in the world ... I imagine there's probably not that many people who are probably have a level of sophistication to mark something like this because, you know, innovation in aircraft maintenance, it's quite a unique topic.
What are you planning for them to come back in? So, if they're going to argue against the findings of your thesis, saying—and I'll summarise again, I'll try to crystallise that—innovation is okay within the parameters ... I think it was your six category, innovation violation can be okay if it's innovation for the basis of improving a process to get a better outcome. That pretty much it?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah. So, when you come back and they want to contest or you need to give it a re-write, what bits do you think you'll be re-writing?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Hopefully, it'll be things like ... They don't believe perhaps the study or the way I've analysed the data would demonstrate that I've applied that appropriately. I'm fairly ... Oh, it's terrible isn't it? I'm confident that there's sufficient argument to warrant categorising of an innovative violation.
Phil Tarrant: Okay.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: And certainly ... Looking at the extant violation or errors, event, and incident reports that companies store that data. That there is evidence that, from the investigations that talk about Bloggs was doing it a safer way, Bloggs thought he was doing it a better way. I should say, I do apologise there, aviation maintenance is a bit blokey. I'd think, from the last census, I think there was only about 5% of females in the
Phil Tarrant: Yeah, we need to fix that, I think. But, any way ...
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Absolutely. And certainly defence is doing a much better job of that within bringing females into the aviation cohort. But again, for my study, it reflects that. I think I have about 3% female participation. For those people who are working in that innovation space, we need to be able to get them to seek approval for that. Not just simply think they've got a better way of doing it, keep it in their black book, in their aide-memoire, in their notebook. To actually share that so that we can get that benefit, for everyone, from that innovation.
Phil Tarrant: So, like all PhDs, you need to be contributing something new. This segmentation or this categorization of innovative violation towards aircraft maintenance ... I look forward to seeing how ... I get the definition and I've enjoyed this chat. Every PhD requires an element of fueled research ... So, you've undertaken, I guess, on the shop floor, talking with people who are undertaking aircraft maintenance and trying to understand their psyche around it. When you have rocked up and chat with someone in overalls, or what might happen in an office somewhere, and you say that you're trying to put some boundaries around this process, which is innovation in aircraft maintenance ... Which has been happening since the birth of aviation, right? People are always trying to do something better, safer, quicker, cheaper, et cetera, et cetera. When you said that you're doing a PhD on this, have they sat there and gone, "Uh, why would you do that?" Or have they actually got it, pretty quickly, what you're trying achieve?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Certainly, they've got it. And people have been, once I've explained the study that I was doing, they've been quite excited and happy to participate. One of the questions that was posed to me early on when I was proposing the research method, which was also one of my questions that I've asked, is 'do you use an aide-memoire, or a notebook?' I steered away from asking them, 'do you have a black book?' Do you use a personal aide-memoire or a notebook? Just to make it clear, I've collected all my data now so no one has to worry about it.
Phil Tarrant: What percentage did?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Significant.
Phil Tarrant: Like more than ... Most did, rather than-
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Yes.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah, okay.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Certainly more than 50%.
Phil Tarrant: Do they hold on those tightly and it was like passed on at a retirement thing saying, "Here is the bible, this is the way to really do it." Or is it very personal?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: It came across in two ways. My first question on the questions relating to the notebooks was, do you have one? Do you use one? A reasonable number said they have them and were happy to show me them. Others said, I used to have them but now, with experience or because of the new regulations, I don't have them. Others would say, no, I've never used them. ... But, by and large, most people said they had them.
Once they told me that they had them, I then asked, what sort of information do you keep in them? Again, it's understanding what's in those notebooks. It's not just about having the procedure in there, in some cases it's about making notes about the work they're up to, or the section they're up to. So, in some cases, the notebook is fine. It's really about what's in there.
You ask the question, do they keep that to themselves or do they share them? For those that have them, it was most probably 50-50 as to whether or not they shared it with someone else, whether they shared it with their supervisor. Others said, no, it's my notebook, I wouldn't share it. There's nothing in there that someone else needs to look at. So, in that case, it is a bit to and a fro as far as what that information is in there. Largely, if they're only keeping information in there which says they've gone out to do a refuel of an aircraft and there was supposed to be x number of thousand pounds of fuel in it, and they've written that down, on their way out, in their notebook. Then, that's okay. That's really just assisting in the maintenance, it's not doing the maintenance task.
But there were examples and people shared them with me willingly. As a senior maintenance manager I kept saying to myself, you're only doing research, keep-
Phil Tarrant: So, did you see that and sometimes say, "Whoa, I don't really like how that looks."
Tony Bannister-Tyrell:I said it to myself, I didn't say it out loud.
Phil Tarrant: Are you concerned? Are you concerned—and, it's a little bit off topic but I think it's connecting with innovation—is this idea of a violation which is innovative and it's getting captured by someone, so it's being done. That's never, ever going to be shared because it is better, or it is fundamentally unsafe and there would be some drastic consequences as a result of it? How bad is this in terms of context in the market? Does a lot of this happen or is it pretty minor?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Well, that is the great unknown. Whilst I love flying and I don't want to scare the travelling public ... The issue for me is, until we know about it, we can't fix it. That's the nub of my research.
I don't think that flying is unsafe. There are, certainly, redundancies within systems that allow ... The Qantas aircraft coming back from Singapore that lost—the A380—that lost all their bits and pieces is testament to the fact that aircraft are forgiving. But there are, certainly, other instances where things have gone wrong that haven't been so fortunate.
Phil Tarrant: Next time I take off, I'm going to think about this conversation, but I'm sure it's all right. I want to keep going. I find it really interesting, it's quite academic and I'm happy to chat this way.
Adam, do I need to cut? I'm getting a nod. That's all right.
The question, Tony, for me is ... I like the basis of the research, I like the thesis you're trying to prove and I like the idea that ... And it's quite unique in that, in something which is so procedurally orientated, that it's okay to innovate. I think you got your hands full there, trying to work that out but ... The question I'd like to look at is that—you're obviously working for Coras now and I don't know how long you've been in that relationship with them but, what is the actual commercial application of this thesis that you're undertaking? There must be benefits from this which you can either provide in to the regulatory bodies or the organisations themselves. How you going to take this from being a great idea and a big thick document with lots of words in it into something which can be applied in a real life work environment?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: The nub of it is that it is about the decision to innovate. So, it's the decision process that the techo has gone through to say that, it's okay if I do this process as distinct from doing in accordance with the publication. It's that decision that they make.
From a broader aspect, we make decisions every day. Certainly within high reliability, high consequence industries, some of those decisions have a far greater impact. But largely, the decisions we make each day, we make value judgements about how whether or not we're following a process or whether we're stepping outside of the process.
From a Coras perspective, I see this work ... A ... Being an ability to extend the existing Coras suite of services to some other areas but also just to apply within the same work that we're currently doing about how we actually manage the decision making processes of people who are working, every day, in process driven activities which could be on board a ship, on a flight line, cooking a rump steak in a galley somewhere. All of those process flows can have application.
Phil Tarrant: Applications outside.
Now to the chicken and egg. Did Coras hear you were undertaking this research and said, hey, this is somewhere we really want to strengthen our capabilities or was it the other way around? Did you take it to Coras and say, hey, I'm undertaking this particular PhD, there is a great application for it here and into the future. How did that happen?
Bit of both?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Bit of both.
Can I give a plug to LinkedIn?
Phil Tarrant: Sure ... LinkedIn’s good
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: There was a posting on LinkedIn by one of the directors of Coras. I saw that, flicked him an email, and it all happened fairly quickly. But again, I'm quite excited about the research that I'm doing and I see that there is some practical applications for that be it based on a theoretical and a philosophical background. But I'm interested in being able to apply that broader within—not just within defence, but within commercial enterprise as well.
Phil Tarrant: The next step for you, obviously, you've got October. You've got a couple of months to polish up the thesis and ... So, all the field work's done, you're just sitting there now in front of the computer, synthesising all this information you've got crystallising in the way in which someone can read and mark, obviously. What's going to happen after that? So, PhD's formalised, you have a nice bit of PhD ceremony, you get a new title in front of your name, which is great. So, what's going to happen then? When, I imagine, you're back at Coras at your desk there and say, "okay, I've got a job to do now." Need to utilise this seminal work that you've put together in a real world commercial environment. What would that first day look like?
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: The key issue there is to be able to share that through the various organisations across the board. Whilst there is that defence connection between the way that I went about doing my data gathering, it was a cross-sectional one ... study ... So, did look at those other elements within the aviation maintenance domain.
I'm quite firmly believe that there is some benefit to be able to share across the board. To be able to take my thesis and to provide some direct benefit in the way that that is being used by defence and by commercial aviation industry, and contractor heavy maintenance. I believe there is some fabulous benefit to be gotten from looking at my study and the outcomes that will come out of that. Be it the ... Certainly the categorization of innovation violation. To be able to ... for organisations to look at their event, error, and incident reports and to see whether they can categorise their own and look at those reports and say, Bloggs is being innovative, Bloggs is doing it a safer way.
And rather than just simply filing that report away and categorising it under one of the existing five violation categories ... To be able to take those aside and say, how can we capitalise on this innovation? Should this innovation be shared? Is there a better way of doing what we're currently doing?
So, I think there is some fabulous benefit to take my research further. I had a trip to Dublin last year-
Phil Tarrant: Sounds difficult ...
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Full marks to Coras. And so, I used my professional development leave to go and attend the European Association of Work and Organisational Psychology conference. And whilst I was there, got to chat to an academic—Associate Professor Nick McDonald at Trinity College in Dublin—who had previously written about innovation in aviation maintenance and talked about the prevalence of black books amongst techos.
I'd originally requested a half hour meeting with Nick. I hadn't met him before. I'd sent him an email and we'd agreed to meet up at 2:30. I left his office in Dublin at 7:00 PM. I walked out of the meeting pretty chuffed. PhD students tend to think highly of themselves any way. Pretty chuffed that at the half hour mark, if he wasn't interested in the research, he could have looked at his watch and said, "Well, that's fascinating, Tony, but I've got somewhere else I want to be." From a research perspective, that gives you the impetus to go, here's a guy that has done a lot of research in this area.
And likewise, just to name drop, Alan Hobbs at NASA Ames Research Centre. I talked to him early about this research project. Again, he was quite supportive of it and wrote a nice email to me that I submitted to Newcastle in my research proposal.
So, within the academic world, there are those that are keen to see this grow and they do see there's a benefit for it. And it's those little things, where you're whiling away the hours, toiling over a keyboard.
An anecdote was that my wife did her PhD a couple years ago. I used to laugh-
Phil Tarrant: So, submarine maintenance was it or was it ...
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: No, hers is in gifted education.
Phil Tarrant: Okay.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: And I laugh that she teaches gifted education, she didn't marry gifted education.
I used to say to her, how hard can it be? 100,000 words over four years. That's 25,000 a year. That's 2,000 a month, 500 a week. And her quip was, "yes, but you gotta get them in the right order!" Currently, I'm struggling to get them in the right order.
Phil Tarrant: Well, good luck with that! You've got, what? Six, seven months still to get them in the right order? Which is plenty of time.
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Plenty of time!
Phil Tarrant: Plenty of time.
Well, let's catch up once you're done and dusted. I'm quite interested to see the commercial applications of this because safety should be the priority for anyone within the aviation sector. But then, that needs to be mixed in with a whole bunch of different factors including time, cost, all this sort of stuff.
The spirit of innovation, it's good to hear, is alive and well in aircraft maintenance. The fact that you're looking to add a new category to these violations, these innovative violations, so let's see how it goes.
I really enjoyed the chat! It's way outside my comfort zone. I don't think I've ever spoken to anyone before about innovation in aircraft maintenance. It's actually made me think quite a lot about it because most people frame innovation with new product developments or ... within the defence sector, some sort of capability which gives an advantage.
I mean, look at innovation within aviation maintenance, it's fundamentally the same thing. It's a capability advantage so you have, say for aircraft, you might be able to deploy them quicker or get them back in service quicker because of innovation in aircraft maintenance. It is still inherent innovation, it's just that grey area where you gotta balance between the way things should be done versus there is always a way to do things better.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah, you happy to field any questions around ...
Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Yes!
Phil Tarrant: It's the academic rigour of this, I can see sort of get the grey matter going, so ... I've really enjoyed it.
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Tony Bannister-Tyrell: Thanks very much.
Phil Tarrant: We'll be back again soon. Until then, bye bye!