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Conflicting groups work together to make great improvements through AFSO21

TINKER AFB, Okla. -- Early this year, representatives from the 552nd Air Control Wing's maintenance and operations groups collaborated to reduce conflicts and maximize efficient use of the E-3 Sentry during a Rapid Improvement Event (RIE) sponsored by Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO21).

The RIE was conducted February 10 through 13 and aimed to standardize the 552nd Operations Group's Minimum Equipment List (MEL) and the 552nd Maintenance Group's Minimum Equipment Subsystem List (MESL).

The MEL is a guide that the operations crews use to determine the airworthiness of a jet and assess the missions systems capabilities for a specific sortie before taking off for a flight, said Master Sgt. Chuck Ratajczyk, lead production superintendant, 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. The MESL is an Air Force Instruction document used by maintainers, which helps determine the aircraft's status from a maintenance perspective, he explained.

The problem that initiated the RIE was that the MEL and MESL have several discrepancies, said Capt. Scott Gregg, chief of AFSO21, 552 ACW. Several times per month, aircrew and maintainers disagree over the airworthiness of a jet, which causes tension and potentially delayed takeoffs while the issues are being resolved.

"The idea for the AFSO21 event was derived from the continuous issues between the aircrew and maintainers on whether or not certain conditions on the aircraft made it airworthy or not," said Sergeant Ratajczyk. "There were many differences between the two documents due to the ever changing and modifying E-3B/C systems, as well as not ever taking into consideration the human factor that the aircrew relies on and the engineering aircraft capability factors that the maintainers rely on."

Since the issue was beginning to affect the wing's flying capabilities, the commander of the 552nd Operation Group, Col. George Carpenter, suggested that the conflicts in the MEL and MESL be rectified.

AFSO21 came to the rescue and helped set up an RIE. The goal was to "create a core document that both aircrews and maintainers can reference when deciding whether an aircraft can fly or when it needs to be turned back to maintenance for further resolution," said Captain Gregg.

The four-day RIE included the inputs of three pilots, one navigator, one maintenance officer, one flight engineer, and two maintenance superintendants. "The initial intent of the working group was to eliminate the conflicts between the MEL and MESL," said Lt. Col. Thomas Quick, chief of standardization and evaluation, 552 OG, "but the group focused and determined that we could go one step further and create one combined document with the wing commander as the approval official." 

The group was successful. According to Captain Gregg, the team combined the MEL and MESL, resolving 12 contradictions and correcting 17 errors, along with making several other improvements. The new core document "will reduce conflict and tension between maintenance and aircrew personnel, improve departure reliability, and increase flexibility in releasing aircraft for specific mission profiles," said Captain Gregg.

"This will benefit the wing by alleviating ninety percent of the last minute issues that pop up as the aircraft is scheduled to fly by spelling out and outlining the acceptable condition, as well as the aircraft capability beforehand, resulting in increased aircraft capability for any given sortie," said Sergeant Ratajczyk.

According to Colonel Quick, the new MEL is scheduled to "reduce wasted time and potential conflict on the flight line" by the end of July 2009. It will also be used by the other E-3 units at Kadena AB and Elmendorf AFB, he said.

Sergeant Ratajczyk is excited about the MEL's implementation. "I have been part of the 552 AMXS for nine years now and can say that this product, developed through the cooperation of the Ops and Maintenance Airmen is the best product for its use I have ever seen," he said. "When all is said and done, Ops and Maintenance will be working from one agreed upon product-- an unprecedented accomplishment!"