California desert planes set to take off after two years

It’s been a calm two years for the world’s airlines – but now they’re in a race against time to get their planes back in the sky, and it’s no easy task.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the way it crippled international travel in March 2020, airlines have had some of their quietest years in history.

But now travel – international and domestic – is picking up and people are desperate to fly.

Airlines are now at the heart of the mammoth task of pulling thousands of planes out of what is called “deep storage” with engineers, mechanics, pilots, cleaners and all who are tasked with putting them back. planes in the sky working overtime.

Massive aircrews and aircraft certifiers are returning to places like California’s Mojave Desert and the Asia-Pacific Aircraft Storage Facility in Alice Springs to get those planes back up and running.

But restarting the journey is not without obstacles.

Crews faced snakes in planes, poisonous scorpions, birds nesting in engine hoods, and insects digging in exposed holes.

Airlines have particularly addressed insects that nest in Pitot tubes, a small tube that helps planes measure speed and altitude.

The European Union Aviation Safety Authority discovered this problem when it noticed an increase in incorrect speed and altitude readings for planes making their first flight after a long period of storage.

They are also struggling with changing tires, which are flat due to the length of time the planes have been idle, and lubricating all the necessary parts of the aircraft.

According to figures from the aeronautical analysis company Cirium, obtained by Traveler, more than 16,000 planes were taken out of service in April 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This figure is equivalent to more than 60% of passenger planes in the world.

Cirium estimated that more than 30% of the global passenger fleet was still out of service at the end of 2020.

But travel is resuming – at a rate likely to exceed pre-pandemic levels.

Now engineers are stepping up their usual inspection checks, including draining fuel tanks of water caused by condensation, checking tire pressure, lubricating bearings, and inspecting the fuselage and wings. for animal nests.

Aviation regulators around the world enforce strict guidelines to ensure planes are fit for the skies.

The Federal Aviation Administration in the United States, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in Australia, and the European Union Aviation Safety Authority (EASA), among others, have massive checklists that airlines must follow.

According to an American Airlines engineer, it takes 300 to 1,000 hours of reactivation work for airlines to gain regulatory approval for a hibernating aircraft.

And even when that process is complete, regulators require the aircraft to perform a maintenance check flight to ensure it can carry passengers safely.

In June, Qantas revealed that engineers who looked after some of the airline’s superjumbos, based in the Mojave Desert, had been tasked with using anti-wheel devices to protect planes from rattlesnakes.

Qantas Los Angeles engineering manager Tim Heywood said it was important for the plane to be serviced regularly.

“Planes like these are very technical and you can’t just land them at the storage facility, park them and go,” Heywood said.

The airline said engineers maintaining its fleet of A380 superjumbos stored in California needed to develop an effective system to protect the planes and themselves from the region’s poisonous rattlesnakes.

In addition to snakes, poisonous scorpions are also of concern during the summer season in the desert.

Mr Heywood said having a team of engineers driving the two-hour drive from LA to Victorville for regular inspections is a critical part of keeping the plane in top condition during its downtime.

“The area is well known for its ‘rattlesnakes’ who like to curl up around hot rubber tires and in the plane’s wheels and brakes,” Heywood said in a statement.

“Each plane has its own ‘breaker’ (a reused broomstick) as part of the engineering kit, with each plane’s registration written on it.

“The first thing we do before unpacking and starting any ground inspection of the landing gear in particular is walk around the plane, tapping our feet and tapping the wheels with a Whacker to wake up and scare off the aircraft. snakes. This is to make sure that no harm is done to our engineers or to the snakes.

“Only then do we carefully approach each wheel and unpack them before performing our pressure checks and visual inspections.”

Mr Heywood said the airline’s engineers had “encountered a few rattlesnakes and also scorpions” at the site, but luckily the wheel breaker has so far done its job.

“It’s a unique part of looking after these planes while they’re in storage and it’s another sign of how strange the past year is,” he said.

With Vanessa Brown

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