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Marking Myth - The Perfect Inspection

By Donna Speidel

    In our first day of our Airfield Marking Symposiums, I take the time to address some common misconceptions prevalent in our industry - marking myths, if you will. These myths are in large part responsible for why airport markings are not as good as they should and could be. Today, I'm busting the myth, "A perfect Part 139 Inspection means your pavement markings are safe":

    Once upon a time, there was an airport whose markings were perfect. Not a flake, not a mar, not one out of place, and straight as an arrow. Throughout the vast complex, everything was perfect. The FAA Part 139 inspector was not able to cite the facility for one single thing. A perfect score! A fairy tale? Or perhaps a dream of the airport operator who feared the impending inspection would reveal known problems not yet resolved?

    The fact is that FAA inspectors are an extremely talented, knowledgeable, and dedicated group of individuals who want to help. During the annual inspection they check various aspects of an airport's operations, including the Airport Certification Manual (ACM), inspection records, training records, maintenance records, ARRF facilities and equipment, lighting, signage, markings, pavements, and anything else they detect that might be of concern to the safe operation of the airport. And he or she accomplishes all of that in one to four days, depending on the size of the airport.

    Every airport operator breathes a sigh of relief when the inspector has finished. Obviously, the best inspection is one with no discrepancies; and all airports that have that distinction wear that badge proudly. Even those inspections that reveal a few things that the airport must correct could be regarded as constructive, proactive, and instructional, with the goal for the next inspection to be perfect.

    So what does it mean to have no discrepancies? Does it really mean that the airport's operational functions are all squeaky-clean? Most airport operators would say no, and agree they knew about things the inspector didn't see, or perhaps they were given a verbal warning, that everything wasn't really perfect.

    Among the items to be evaluated during a Part 139 inspection, there are only a few check boxes that address airfield markings. Since there are few objective criteria for an assessment of the markings, the main focus is marking configuration, followed by visibility, and sometimes the obvious peeling paint. As we know from the last edition of this webletter in "The Combover", the majority of airports repaint their markings just before an inspection so that the markings appear to be in good condition. But what is lurking just under the surface of that fresh paint was a problem just a month or so before, and will be again when the new paint fails just like it did last year. It's just that they appeared to be good, so the inspector checked it off. So when we hear airports say they had no discrepancies on their markings, we are a bit skeptical based on the fact that every airport we've ever been to is challenged with the paint on the pavement.

    So it is a myth. It isn't the inspector's job to find everything. They are only spot-checking. But we hear airport personnel at every level dismiss the significance of their marking system because their "markings weren't written up." It is the airport's responsibility to be diligent, proactive, and knowledgeable about every aspect of airport operations, including markings according to its ACM. Training is key; a detailed marking assessment is even better. Contact me directly for more information about both... Even if you haven't been written up during your last 139 inspection!

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