“There could be snakes”: Planes put to sleep by Covid prepare to fly again | Air Transport


In the red dust of the Australian desert, more than a hundred gleaming planes are lined up nose to tail, a long-term parking lot for aviation.

Hundreds more form geometric patterns in California’s Mojave Desert, where engineers strike the hubs of Qantas A380s to scare off rattlesnakes.

When Covid forced the world to stop, planes were crammed into huge storage areas across the United States, Europe and just outside of Alice Springs, Australia. And now it’s time to rip the plastic off, power up the engines, and get ready for takeoff again.

A week ago, Qantas chief Alan Joyce stood in front of a 787 and spoke of the “light at the end of the tunnel” as vaccination rates rise and borders open. He announced that the old roads would resume and that new roads would join them. Qantas’ first A380 will arrive in Australia on Christmas Day, he said, and a second will be in place by April.

Just three months ago, they planned to keep them longer in the desert, he said. “It’s how quickly things are changing and how optimistic we are to meet demand, that we are offering two… one before Christmas, one for training and crew.”

Many Qantas planes are in California, while Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage near Alice Springs is a temporary home for planes owned by Jetstar, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Tigerair and more. Apas had to continue to grow as the pandemic put more planes on the back burner and opened a second site in Queensland.

Sonya Brown, a lecturer in aerospace design at the University of New South Wales, explains that while the craft is in hibernation, engineers are working hard to stop the encroachment on wildlife and rust. Ports and openings should be sealed, and the oil drained and replaced with preservative oil – a process called “stripping”.

Then there is a whole series of procedures to get them to take off safely.

Planes grounded at the Asia-Pacific Aircraft Storage Facility in Alice Springs, Australia. Photograph: Steve Strike / Getty Images

Earlier this year, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency warned of an “alarming trend in the number of reports of unreliable airspeed and altitude indications during the first flight (s) following the exit of the aircraft, caused by contaminated aerodynamic data systems “.

Planes have been forced to stop take-offs or turn around because of “foreign objects” such as insect nests in static pitot systems, pressure-sensitive equipment that provides critical information about them. air data such as speed.

“The intrusion of wildlife is definitely one of the big things with storage – the bugs and bird nests,” says Brown. “There are a lot of visual controls for animals and the like.

“Insects can enter overhead data lines – they are of particular concern because they are the ones that help the aircraft understand how high they are, how fast they are going. You should rinse them with nitrogen to make sure they are perfectly clear.

“And there could be snakes, more likely around the undercarriage.”

June was rattlesnake season in the California desert, and Qantas’ chief engineering officer Tim Heywood said the team had developed a “wheel wacker” for each aircraft.

“The area is well known for its fiery ‘rattles’ that love to curl up around hot rubber tires and in the wheels and brakes of the plane,” he says, as the maintenance crew stomp and kick. the wheels to scare them away.

(The essential “Whacker Whacker”, which is part of the engineering kit, is a reused broomstick.)

Brown says the planes are stored in arid areas, protected from moisture. All openings are sealed, parts are wrapped in plastic, while these insects and birds are sodded.

The motors are supplied regularly and the wheels are turned so as not to have flats. Those that need to be left at metropolitan airports like Sydney, where many employees are still based, could run the air conditioner to remove moisture.

Airbus recommends parking planes on a flat surface with the nose pointed into the wind to limit the effect of gusts of wind. In some cases, chocks are needed to hold the wheels in place because there is no hydraulic pressure for the parking brakes.

And operators are “strongly advised to avoid using improvised or unapproved items to protect the aircraft and its components.”

And as more and more roads open up, more will be tested.

Each aircraft has a specific maintenance manual that details how they are to be brought out of hibernation. All caps and protective covers should be removed, tires pressure tested.

Brown says the software needs to be checked and updated, and all sealed areas will be inspected. Then there are operational controls on all of the aircraft’s systems, from avionics to flight control systems.

“They will propel them, preferably to the highest levels they would expect to see on takeoff and in flight,” she says.

“It is very important that with long term storage there are also landing gear checks. “

To do this, the Alice Springs planes will be transported to Sydney without passengers and the landing gear extended, so that engineers in Sydney can carry out final checks.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has published a series of high-level checklists for pilots when they return to operations. They include checking for fatigue or lockout stress, checking skills, and watching for tall grass and more birds and animals on the trails after periods of inactivity.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the international travel ban for Australians will be lifted on November 1 and hopes for non-quarantined travel bubbles between Australia and Singapore, followed by Bangkok, Phuket, Johannesburg and Fiji. The agreement applies to all states and territories, although they themselves are at various stages of opening.

Qantas announced this week that by resuming international flights for the first time in 20 months, it will offer more vegetarian options and even a signature cocktail to celebrate its return. There will also be a digital travel guide to help passengers navigate the complicated world of vaccine passports, mask warrants and other protective measures against Covid.

Most international airlines will likely only accept vaccinated passengers, while others will take a small number of unvaccinated people who will still need to be quarantined at the hotel.

Apas chief executive Tom Vincent said his storage site, with those wing tips glowing in the desert sun, will still be needed as old planes are reactivated or old planes dismantled.

“Calling us a boneyard is a bane to what we do,” he says.

About Theresa Burton

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