The challenges of storing aircraft
During the COVID crisis, there's been an overwhelming drop in demand for flights. Many aircraft parked, with no idea of when they would be used again. Some airlines have taken the opportunity to retire older aircraft, whilst others have placed them in storage around the world. Considering each carries a multi-million dollar price tag, where and how are they stored safely for a quick return to service?
With space at a premium at many airports, many now reside at storage facilities across the globe. Others have remained with the airline’s engineering and maintenance teams or ferried to specialist companies such as Tarmac Aerosave. Depending on length of time stored, critical work needs to be carried out to prepare it for storage and maintain viability for however long it’s out of service.
Pre-storage, the aircraft is deep cleaned before it is sealed up and windows covered. Moisture ingress a major concern, up to 100 kilos of silica absorption sachets required throughout the aircraft and engines. Outside holes are plugged to keep out dust, dirt, birds and insects. Anti-fungal agents may be needed in fuel tanks, with certain cables and landing gear requiring lubrication. To keep industry regulators happy and ensure airworthiness, extensive checks need to be made. Engines run for around fifteen minutes weekly or fortnightly. Some aircraft need to be moved to ensure tyres remain in good condition and electrical systems require frequent checks at regular intervals.
Companies who carry out specialist maintenance have experienced a massive drop in business. This has been countered with the huge demand for tailor-made storage, dismantling and scrapping. The aviation industry is more environmentally friendly than realised, with parts often removed to order, or stocked awaiting customers.
Some airlines have decided to turn the crisis into a PR exercise, by keeping customers informed on what they’re doing to maintain airworthiness. Qantas has provided extensive explanations about why they’ve parked certain aircraft at Sydney whilst others have gone to Alice Springs. Also, what their engineers are doing to keep them in peak condition by following aircraft and engine manufacturers’ guidance to the letter. United backed up the need for continuous inspection and maintenance, adding it’s vital to read the storage instructions.
So, what’s the difference between active parking and long-term storage? Active parking means the aircraft could be back in service quickly. The longer an aircraft is parked, the more needs to be done to make it airworthy again, such as an active landing gear check every six months. Airbus has given approval for some deviations from regular maintenance schedules because aircraft may be parked at airports without dedicated maintenance facilities. Different types have different traits, some may experience more engine leaks. There’s ongoing feedback between storage companies and manufacturers to ensure maintenance manuals are improved and updated. An aircraft lives and breathes, albeit in a reduced capacity, until it’s required again.
Information courtesy of Gabriel Leigh FR24, Tarmac Aerosave, Qantas and United Airlines
Image courtesy of FR24 and Jetphotos