In February, just before the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the large Indian infrastructure group GMR announced the establishment of Asia’s first inflatable hangar at its Hyderabad airport, bringing a new dimension to the maintenance and repair of airplanes and engines in the country.
The introduction of this cost-effective technology, which is being used by some airlines in Europe and the Gulf of the Middle East, is growing in importance as India is on the verge of expanding its aircraft fleet and its aeronautical infrastructure with hundreds of airports over the next few years. Some of them will also require aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO).
The government has, over the past four years, made various announcements to build or relaunch around 150 airports, including some airstrips in the country. In addition, amid the government’s efforts to make the country an MRO hub, new companies have also reportedly been announced by several players including Boeing, Airbus, Hindustan Aeronautics and Pratt & Whitney to set up repair facilities in India.
According to aviation industry estimates, hangars, which are used to protect airplanes from inclement weather and direct sunlight during MRO processes, account for a significant portion of the $ 1.7 billion MRO business. India. However, it takes a considerable amount of time to find an available hangar to undertake unscheduled repairs.
On the contrary, an inflatable shed is cost effective, reduces downtime and costs compared to building a conventional shed, while meeting all of the functionality, safety features and structural stability of a conventional shed.
The inflatable hangar is made up of low pressure tubes aligned parallel to each other forming a “rib cage” structure. Permanent structure, like any other conventional structure, inflatable sheds are intended for use in all-weather PVC canvas structures with a lifespan of more than 15 years.
These hangars, which vary in size, can be used as an individual alternative to conventional hangars, says Ashok Gopinath, CEO of GMR Aero Technic which brought inflatable hangar technology to the country.
“It’s a cost effective option that can shorten construction time. As part of the airport infrastructure, it can be used to perform on-line, ad hoc and aircraft-based maintenance checks, ”he said.
The inflatable shed is designed to withstand winds of up to 158.4 kilometers per hour (km / h) and can withstand temperatures from -30 degrees Celsius to +70 degrees Celsius, creating an alternative to conventional metal sheds solid which are both expensive and time consuming to build.
A typical single-aisle aircraft hangar currently requires an investment of around ₹50 crore and takes over 18 months to build. An inflatable shed, on the other hand, can be installed in about three to four months at less than a quarter of the cost, or so. ₹12 crore, which includes lighting, fire fighting, ventilation, doors, etc.
The GMR Group Narrow Body Single Bay Inflatable Hangar is designed to accommodate a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 series aircraft.
At present, the country has 19 conventional hangars owned by the subsidiary of the national carrier Air India, Air India Engineering Services Ltd (AIESL), GMR Aero Technic and Air Works India, spread across different states. An area of approximately 3,344 m² is required to accommodate a narrow-body aircraft in a hangar of approximately 7,000 m² for a wide-body aircraft.
According to industry experts, of the total MRO cost of an air operator fleet, engine maintenance costs account for 45%, component maintenance 25%, airframe and other costs account for 35%.
According to Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, India currently has around 700 commercial aircraft and will need 1,750 to 2,100 aircraft over the next 20 years. However, according to Boeing’s latest market outlook, India will need more than 2,200 new aircraft worth nearly $ 320 billion over the next 20 years.
“There is huge potential for such hangars, as many new airports will emerge in India. In addition, it is an ideal solution for operators and MROs for the regional connectivity scheme, ”says Pulak Sen, Founder and Secretary General of the MRO Association of India. “It is useful technology in an MRO operation that can be used to park an aircraft for routine maintenance.”
As the construction of a conventional hangar takes about 18 months and the allocation of hangar space by an airport operator is a time consuming exercise, it is best to have an inflatable hangar installed at a cost. and split time, Sen said.
The cost of these sheds varies depending on the size. There are smaller ones, which can only accommodate a helicopter or a small plane to the larger ones that can accommodate up to three Boeing 777s.
“With the knowledge of such an option in India, these hangars can be deployed in greater numbers in the future. However, only time will tell how the Indian market accepts this new technology, ”Sen said.
Echoing similar views, Gopinath said, “Going forward, this (greater adoption of the technology by MRO operators in the country) depends on demand and feasibility. If the authorities are looking for more permanent structures, they can opt for conventional hangars.
However, few future airports are likely to consider inflatable hangars to immediately make ground planes available to their airline customers, Gopinath said.
“These hangars can be deployed at offline or remote stations for smaller controls and rapid aircraft turnaround. They can also be added to normal hangars to support additional workloads, which an MRO can get, ”said HR Jagannath, former CEO of AIESL.
“But the main problem with inflatable sheds is where they need to be deployed. It should have access to the airport runway so that aircraft can enter the hangar. Most of these hangars are deployed at accident sites, where major repairs to the aircraft can be made, ”he added.
European aviation major Airbus has used portable inflatable hangers for many years to perform aircraft repairs in difficult or remote locations on a temporary basis and finds their transportability useful.
“With the significant and continued growth of aviation in India, it is essential that airlines have access to world-class maintenance facilities at home,” Airbus said in a statement to HT.