An industry which has been dramatically affected globally is aviation. Many airlines have cancelled or deferred aircraft orders, routes have been suspended, and some airlines have sadly ceased operations. A crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic has tested various airlines, with a variety of different approaches being taken. Some airlines stopped flights completely, while others focused on cargo, even converting some of their passenger aircraft into temporary freighters. One common thing, seen from all airlines is the grounding of aircraft. Airlines such as Tap Portugal grounded up to 80% of their fleet, while DELTA has filled up entire runways at Atlanta airport with stored aircraft, and these examples are to name a few. With so many airlines placing their aircraft in long term storage, comes the question, how do they store their planes for long periods?
We have divided the processes of storing, maintaining and reactivation of an aircraft in 4 simple steps.
First of all, airlines must select where to store their aircraft, while this step may seem an easy and non-important one, location is vital when storing aircraft. When picking a place to store the airplanes, it is usually best to store the plane in an airport with a desert environment, like Teruel airport located in Spain or Mojave Air & Space Port located in California. A desert climate is dry and warm, which is suitable for aircraft as it prevents corrosion. Money unsurprisingly is another essential factor in the selection of a location. Storing aircraft in a desert airport with almost no traffic is cheaper than having it parked at an international airport. Parking stands at a ‘major’ airport cost a lot more than an airport with fewer routes/traffic. Overall, for airlines, having their plane parked at a remote airport helps save money.
2- Preparing The Aircraft
After choosing a location and ferrying the airplane, to the desired airport. The aircraft needs to be prepped for its long term storage. Usually, a team of mechanics and engineers perform this job; the processes mainly consists of protecting individual parts of the airplane, with both protective covers, which are used to prevent small animals and dust from entering and settling in the aircraft parts. Special preservative oils can be applied to avoid wear, and usually, the fuel tanks are drained to prevent water build-up and growth of fungi and bacteria. An area which is given a lot of attention when preparing an aircraft for storage is the engines. Regular engine oil is replaced with corrosion prevention solution, and desiccant bags are placed in the engine inlets before they are covered with engine covers. This process prevents damage and corrosion to the engine.
Maintaining an aircraft to keep it in working condition is another critical task in long term storage. A series of tasks need to be undertaken while the aircraft is stored.
These tasks include:
- Auxiliary power units and flight computers are powered up weekly for checks.
- Once a week the entire airplane is checked for corrosion
- Every two weeks the electrical systems are turned on and checked
- Once a month the aircraft wheels are moved to prevent flat spots on the wheel
- The interior of the aircraft is often checked to ensure that carpets and seats stay in good condition.
These are just some of the most important steps taken. Many other checks need to be completed regularly.
The timeframe for an aircraft to be grounded is often flexible, and airlines may make last-minute decisions to bring an aircraft back into service, especially if demand returns. To begin with, the entire aircraft is checked to ensure it is good to fly. These checks include inspection walks through the whole plane, examinations of its systems, like the engines and flight computers. Reviews are critical, and engineers are keeping an eye out for defective parts or any animals that may have nested up in any of the aircraft holes. While the reactivation phase may seem to be the fastest and easiest one, it can often take a lot of time, while the aircraft is carefully inspected. The process typically takes between 24 to 62 hours. The size of the plane and how long the plane has been in storage can play a role in the length of time it takes.
Putting an aircraft into storage is no easy task! It can be a complicated process, but a necessary one. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a significant rise in the number of aircraft in storage. Airports across the globe have been filled with grounded planes, and while it is a mesmerising sight, it is also sad and shows just how heavily impacted the aviation industry has been by COVID-19.