Slop Chit Syndrome

Slop chits are so handy. I for one can’t do without them. This serendipitous discovery by American company 3M, is matchless in its capability to draw attention or hold temporary information. Discovered quite by accident in 1968, 3M’s scientist Dr. Spencer Silver was attempting to develop a super-strong adhesive when he chanced upon this “solution without a problem”. These humble shreds of paper have withstood the onslaught of smartphones and tablets with remarkable resilience. Why, over a period of time they have even evolved into fashionable, multi-coloured POST-ITs. Imagine how drab those browned out, dusty files in our offices would look without the festive gaiety of slop chits of various hues. In fact, I often wondered if there is a direct correlation between the number of multi-coloured slop chits that stick out from the sides of a file and the file’s final destination. But that’s the subject matter of another investigation.

Pleased as I am with these pieces of paper, of late, there seems to be an undesirable proliferation of slop chits into the domain of flying units. And this is where i see a problem looming.

Consider this. Aircraft taxies into dispersal after a sortie. Crew switch off the aircraft, complete their walk around and dab the sweat off their brows. Ground crew are eager to know “all OK?”. After a brief discussion on dispersal, crew sign off the documents and move to the Flight Commander’s office. Some more discussion ensues. And out comes the smart young pilot with a slop chit to be handed over to the technicians. What’s the matter? Thoda sa (a little, in Hindi) oil leak, rudder thoda stiff, power index thoda out. Yes, that’s right. Our crew has just returned with defects on the aircraft and endorsed a fully serviceable aircraft on the documents. Why bother with entry shentry? The slop chit will convey the same message, right?

Wrong. We have just lost a rudimentary system to monitor health history of the aircraft. In the absence of health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS), the closest estimate of aircraft’s health is the record of entries in technical log. If all defects, even seemingly minor ones, are entered and work done to liquidate the defect documented, over a period of time, the tech log will speak the aircraft’s story. Finally, in the event of an unfortunate accident this document could provide valuable leads to investigators. Contrast this with the slop chit that almost always finds its way to the trash bin.

It is not my case that defects are not attended or that we are flying unserviceable aircraft. Rather, it’s the pathological reluctance to document observations on aircraft serviceability.

Why this caginess in logging observations where they belong, even if they seem minor? Let us put ourselves into the shoes of a Squadron CO or ‘Management’ struggling to meet the mounting requirements with depleting assets. I can think of some possible excuses for this ‘slop chit syndrome’

1. Entering the defect would render aircraft unserviceable, thereby requiring corresponding man-hours / work done to be factored into the documents (this ‘trouble’ is often avoided by addressing the defect without documentation).

2. A tight rope we walk each day called ‘Daily State’ may get upset, raising eyebrows and inviting probing questions from higher ups.

3. Spare is not available in frontline or stores, therefore increasing down time if defect is logged.

4. Technical manager feels it can be handled in the next scheduled inspection.

5. “I am keeping a mental log of all defects and will address them at the appropriate time” (mental slop chit?).

6. A tendency to take ownership of the defect i.e perceiving something personal in the way aircraft is flown or maintained.

7. Maybe it is not a defect at all? Too many doubting thomases out there.

Sadly, all the above pretexts only reflect a compulsion to put away the inevitable. Needless to state, none of the above justifications would stand scrutiny in the unfortunate event of an accident. But therein lies the treachery of slop chit system. Little, if any, record would exist of the train of small defects that have been addressed during the aircraft’s exploitation. So no questions asked. When the aircraft pulls in for next inspection, an abnormally long list of defects would suddenly crop up for redressal. Again, slop chits can be called in for balancing out, with only ‘discussed’ defects finding their way into the snag sheet. The aircraft is speaking its story, but no one’s listening.

Once a person is qualified as Captain of any aircraft, shouldn’t there be enough faith reposed in the individual to discern whether a defect exists or not? Does it need to be the subject matter of a debate or discussion, except if we are discussing the possible cause and remedies? There are not enough ‘Apps’ on our older vintage aircraft for giving quantitative data on aircraft health. That’s more reason for us to be on alert for any signs of potential unserviceability. One wonders if slop chits or ‘dekh lena, kar lena’ (verbal treatment) can ever be a remedy for this.

So the next time you feel brakes were sluggish or the pedal was buzzing, walk right up to the line table and log it in. You would have saved a slop chit….and who knows, someone’s life too.

Disclaimer: Views are personal. Issues raised do not pertain to any particular unit or company and are only meant to encourage healthy debate with overall impetus on improving flight safety and promoting best practices.
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