Stepping aboard a plane to their destination, few commercial aviation fliers are aware of the strict levels of manufacturing quality control that contribute to air travel being one of the safest modes of modern transport.
In fact, you are statistically more likely to die from a bee sting than from flying on a plane, and it is far safer than taking a train or driving. How is the aviation industry able to maintain such a high standard of safety? In part because of extensive pilot training, and daily efforts of air traffic controllers to avoid collisions, but the answer starts with the mechanics of the airplane itself.
Parts for planes, jets, rockets, and other aviation sectors were not always made to such exacting standards. As the world economy continued to expand in the late 20th century, many countries recognized that a global quality standard for manufacturing was needed, allowing for parts sourcing around the world for the automotive, equipment, and aerospace industries. As a result, a governing accreditation body was formed called the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which published its first family of standards in 1987. This was called ISO 9000, and it outlines the fundamentals of compliant quality management systems. Within ISO 9000, a specific set of requirements that organizations must meet to be certified as quality compliant is called ISO 9001.
Adopted first in Europe, by the early 1990’s American manufacturers had adopted the ISO 9001 standards as well. But by 1994, aerospace suppliers found that ISO 9001 did not meet all of the specific quality requirements of customers like NASA, the FAA, and the Department of Defense. Recognizing a need, major American aerospace manufacturers combined efforts to develop a universal standard to specifically address the more stringent quality and conformance needs of the aerospace industry. This eventually created a global standard called AS9100.
“AS9100 certification includes the ISO standards, but has extra requirements on top of ISO,” said Rebecca Premo, CEO for Acclaim Aerospace, a Georgia-based supplier of precision machined aerospace components for aviation, defense, space, and medical applications. “To be certified AS9100, suppliers need to meet ISO 9001 standards, plus extra requirements that are specific to aerospace.”
On a recent facility tour, Acclaim Aerospace President Jason Premo explained that audits of these processes are conducted by independent, third-party registrars who validate that the company’s systems and practices align with the standards of both ISO 9001 and AS9100. “Acclaim has been registered as AS9100D certified for our precision metal machining processes using CNC Swiss lathes and CNC turn milling lathes,” said Premo. “When you are certified, it shows that you have greater control over your processes, and control over things like part conformity and compliant raw materials sourcing. By hitting those AS9100 requirements, you are proving that you have greater control over your processes than even the ISO standards require.”
The Premos are a husband and wife team who each lead different areas of responsibility at Acclaim Aerospace, but Rebecca points out that the company is a woman-owned small business, a relative rarity in the heavily male-dominated manufacturing industry. “It’s important to me that women are recognized as business leaders in our communities, especially in STEM careers. Our daughters are watching, and it’s important to me to give them an example of a woman being an entrepreneur and a company CEO.”
“We have to do more work and be more detailed making aerospace parts, but that’s what we love to do, taking on a challenge and knocking it out of the park,” she said. “In our leadership meetings, the question is always how can we do it better, faster, and more precise than the competition? When you are a supplier to companies like NASA, Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman… You don’t have the luxury to rest on your laurels. You have to push yourself and your team on a mission of consistent process improvement.”
Companies like Acclaim Aerospace, in following the standards set by International Aerospace Quality Group (IAQG) and, in the U.S., by the Americas Aerospace Quality Group (AAQG), ensure that when you next step onto an airplane for a trip, you can be assured that the most stringent quality controls have gone into producing every part on the aircraft, ensuring it is fit to fly.