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I just read an article about a man (who is alledgedly an airplane mechanic) who was a passenger on an airplane that had some mechanical issues. Because there were no 'local' mechanics around, he decided to take matters into his own hands and fix the problem himself.

Here's the article I read (it's in Dutch though)

Here's one in English

This all seems nice but in this day of age where airplane security and regulation is so tight, I wonder if this is possible at all. It also seems to me that by the airplane company is taking a huge risk in letting this "random" person fix this problem. The article obviously oversimplifies a few things, but regardless of that, here's my question:

Is it possible for a random passenger, who also happens to be an airplane mechanic (working for airline X) to fix an issue on the airplane he happens to be on, given that there are no "local" mechanics around (however unlikely that might be)?

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I'm pretty sure the airline did a quick reference check to see if he was what he said he was –  ratchet freak Aug 6 at 13:08
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It certainly depends on the issue. I once fixed a toilet door that couldn't be properly closed.... –  PlasmaHH Aug 6 at 21:24
    
This almost seems more like a skeptics question than an aviation one! –  ErikE Aug 8 at 4:41
    
Is this while the aircraft is on the ground or during flight? Would they all crash and die if this person doesn't do said repair? –  Keavon Aug 10 at 1:13

3 Answers 3

up vote 82 down vote accepted

I happen to have personal knowledge of this particular case.
(I was in that airplane too and sat 2 rows away from him in the plane.
I'm also a former pilot and was naturally very interested in what happened, so I asked him some questions during the flight back.)

He had worked as service mechanic for this company before, servicing their planes in Iceland. Their technical staff and the pilot of this plane already knew him, which made things easier.

Tools and parts where available at the airport in Alicante, but no qualified technician certified for this type of aircraft.
The technical staff of the airline contacted his boss in Iceland by phone, who agreed to sub-contract him to the airline for the duration of the repair and pay him overtime for the work.
They faxed a copy of his certification documents to Stockholm to cover the EASA regulations that require a certified professional doing the repair.

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in other words it wasn't a random passenger but a qualified mechanic known to the aircrew who just happened to be a passenger on that flight. Random event, not random passenger :) –  jwenting Aug 7 at 8:02
    
@jwenting exactly –  Tonny Aug 7 at 14:40
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This is the best possible explanation of the reported situation, but it doesn't actually answer the more general question that was actually asked. I don't want to discredit this cool answer, but I'm still curious about the original question! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 8 at 8:49
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I suspect that the upvotes are due to the fact that there are 7 billion people on the planet, and the fact that one of them was both on the plane in question and posts here is so mind-numbingly infinitesimal as to be nearly incredible. –  dotancohen Aug 8 at 15:12
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@dotancohen I signed up to aviation.SE just to commend you on your correct use of 'incredible' :) –  Ollie Ford Aug 10 at 12:56

The airline Primera Air is a Danish business that was originally based in Iceland. They have a fleet of 8 Boeing 737s.

The passenger Davíð Aron Guðnason is an Icelandic air mechanic. He is reported as saying:

“I spoke to the captain on board and he put me through to the airline’s head mechanic who’s based in Stockholm, Sweden. He told me that there was a problem with the plane’s starter valve – which is relatively easy to fix. It only took me about thirty minutes to repair,” Davíð Aron explained in an interview with news website Vísir.is yesterday.

So he wasn't a random passenger, he was a passenger with appropriate qualifications who was in contact with the head mechanic of the airline's approved maintenance organisation.

To speculate a little, it seems reasonable to suppose that the maintenance organisation take legal responsibility for the repair. There is probably no legal requirement that all mechanics be direct employees of the maintenance organisation, so long as they ensure the mechanic has the required skills and qualifications. Given the airline's history it is possible that the airline's head mechanic, or one of his colleagues, knew Guðnason and/or was easily able to check with Guðnason's employer.

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As I posted in my answer THERE IS a legal requirement that maintenance shall be carried out by an approved maintenance organization. –  Emil Aug 6 at 15:38
    
@Emil: I am suggesting the maintenance possibly was carried out by such an organisation. Either Guðnason was working for Primera's maintenance organisation temporarily or for his normal employer subcontracted by same. –  RedGrittyBrick Aug 6 at 15:40
    
Yes, I think that would have been the only way to get things moving that fast –  Emil Aug 6 at 15:48

Part M requires that:

Maintenance of large aircraft, aircraft used for commercial air transport and components thereof shall be carried out by a Part-145 approved maintenance organisation.

So, I don't really see how a company would let a passenger work on an airplane, even with a proper licence.

Not to mention the passenger would need tools to perform the job and that's not something one carries in his bag on vacation.

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I have no idea what Part M and Part-145 are, but the incident apparently happened in Spain (from a quick scan, the Dutch article says it happened on the Alicante airport). Do these parts apply there? –  Michael Kjörling Aug 6 at 13:46
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Well, if they have a proper license, it means they are an employee of (some) Part-145-approved maintenance organization. –  Jan Hudec Aug 6 at 15:18
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@JanHudec: Not necessarily, the licence is not conditioned by being employed in a maintenance organization. –  Emil Aug 6 at 15:35
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@JanHudec The certification is to the mechanic in person. Not depended on his employment. See my full answer below. –  Tonny Aug 6 at 19:07
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@jwenting It happens, especially with private/sports/bush- planes on small airfields. Commercial airlines are very leery of this though. If IATA/EASA finds out airline licenses can get revoked, pilots who knowingly condone such a repair can loose their license. And insurance companies can (and will) blacklist the airline. If I remember correctly there is an emergency clause (war-zone, natural disaster) that can be invoked to allow basically anything (including unauthorized repairs) to get passengers to safety. Subject to review later if it was justified: Ramifications will follow if not. –  Tonny Aug 7 at 14:51

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