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Mon, May 09, 2005

Hail, Hail, The Gang's All -- In For Maintenance

Embry-Riddle Reacts To Hail Damage; Cessna Pitches In

By Aero-News Senior Correspondent Kevin "Hognose" O'Brien

Primary and Instrument flight students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University fly a fleet of well-maintained, well-equipped, late-model Cessna 172s. Riddle flight line managers pride themselves for having as many planes on the flight line, and as few down for maintenance at any given time, as is humanly possible.

But they're probably wishing that they had more planes down for maintenance and safely locked in the hangar last week. A sudden hailstorm caught almost the entire fleet on the ground and savaged it with larger-than-golfball hailstones. The 48 planes on the field suffered broken skylights and water penetration; there were also a lot of damaged control surfaces (the skins on Cessna control surfaces are not as thick -- read "hail-resistant" -- as the main structure).

The only undamaged machines were one in the maintenance hangar, and one away from the field, in the air, when the storm passed through.

The Cessnas weren't the only planes savaged by the hail. "All the other aircraft that were exposed (PA-44, PA-28) are down for dings on the control surfaces," a Riddle insider, who preferred not to be quoted by name, told Aero-News. PA-44 Seminoles are used in multi-engine training, and PA-28R Arrows are used in the Commercial program.

But the most serious interruption to the university's feverish training pace is caused by the 172 debacle. "Every 172 is down for broken skylights," the same source told us (exaggerating slightly -- after all, there were two undamaged planes!) "Cessna sent their rep to see the damage and I believe they added another shift to get the necessary parts down to us."

What's Cessna Doing?

At this writing, a Cessna spokeswoman said no new workers or hours have been added as a result of the hail storm.

"I've checked with our facilities in Columbus, GA, and Independence, KS," said Cessna's Jessica Myers. "We haven't added a shift at either facility for this. We have added shifts in certain areas for our regular production (because we plan to deliver approximately 900 single engines this year), but we haven't added any shifts specifically related to ERAU."

Transparencies for the single-engine line are mostly made in Cessna's Pawnee Plant at Wichita, and shipped by truck to Independence (for production) or directly from the Pawnee Plant to maintenance customers or parts distributors.  The shipping facilities are immediately adjacent to where these parts are produced.

These Parts WIll Be High Priority

Embry-Riddle is a flagship customer for Cessna, and the manufacturer could be expected to pull out all the stops. But Cessna is always prepared for an emergency like this, and has procedures in place to get the customer back in the air ASAP. Like many manufacturers, Cessna prioritizes service parts, when, like this, they have a customer at a standstill. Parts that are for a customer aircraft on the ground are always marked with a large red AOG (Aircraft on the Ground) tag and expedited at every stage of manufacture and delivery.

Meanwhile, Back In Daytona Beach...

Students, who are young and ambitious by definition, and perhaps a little impatient, are chafing at the shortage of aircraft, and maintainers and schedulers are doing all they can; fortunately it's the end of an academic year so flight operations are not at peak levels.

This might be the ideal time for anyone who's normally intimidated by the intensive training traffic to fly in to DAB -- it's bound to be a little lighter for a couple of days.

Aero-News Is On The Story

We're following up with sources at Riddle and in the manufacturing community (remember, a number of New Piper planes are down, also), so this is unlikely to be our last word on the subject. When (if?) the manufacturers get back to us, you bet we'll tell you what they have to say.

FMI: www.erau.edu, www.cessna.com

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