Close to sixty-three per cent (63%) of the world’s aircraft fleet was grounded in March this year, a staggering 16,000 aeroplanes; And all these aircraft needed space to be parked. It was a logistical nightmare for the airlines to find the space. An exercise never ever executed before, nor even simulated.
Parking vs Storage of Aircraft
Aircraft are only classed as in ‘storage’ when they have not been used for seven consecutive days; otherwise, it is called ‘parking’. The airlines first classified their fleets and identified the aircraft for these two categories.
Aircraft parking and storage facilities have been in existence for a long time, but never did those companies imagine that they would need to store thousands of planes. The three largest aircraft ‘boneyards’ -Victorville, California along with Davis-Monthan Air Force Boneyard in Tucson and Rosewell, New Mexico, expanded capacity and store a few thousand more aircraft. The dry climate of deserts helps prevent corrosion and is suitable for long term storage.
Around the world, remaining aircraft were parked at all major airports on taxiways and unused runways. From London to Dubai, Abu Dhabi to Hong Kong – airports became large parking lots.
Continuous Maintenance Needed
During the storage period, the aircraft have to be regularly maintained. The preservation process varies depending on the length of time that the aircraft is likely to be out of service. Airbus quickly developed an app that helped their customers carry out routine maintenance checks for the entire grounded fleet.
There are many tasks that need to be carried out, which include –
- Cabins have to be cleaned before being sealed for security. Fuel tanks and oil lines drained and perhaps replaced with other liquids. Exposed chrome surfaces including in the undercarriage have to be protected from corrosion.
- Regular weekly maintenance of grounded planes has to be carried out. This includes checks and testing of avionics, hydraulics and other operating systems, and keeping the cabin sanitised and dry. While doing this, the power systems have to be turned on since ventilation of the cabin is a must for the safety of crew entering the plane.
- In some cases, the aircraft engines have to be rotated to release pressure on bearings. Similarly, the aircraft has to be moved to protect the tires and brake assembly.
IATA has also drawn up a series of guidelines for handling aircraft during long term storage and their return back to service.
Getting Back Into The Air
For all airlines, there will be a substantial cost to get these aircraft back into the air. No one knows when the full fleet will be back in operations. But signs of recovery started in June when about 500 aircraft were brought out of storage. Subsequently, new flights are being added each day.
With travel restrictions being eased and destinations opening up it appears the worst is now over and planes are getting back to where they belong – in the air. When do you think the airlines will be fully operational? Your views will be highly appreciated.