As the world pauses its flights during COVID-19, many aircrafts have been grounded temporarily and parked. This is how airlines and airports are dealing with it. By Bayar Jain

 

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If you look up at the skies right now, the possibility of seeing aeroplanes cutting through clouds is close to zero. The blue beauty above is dotted with chirruping birds and occasional rainbows. This rosy hue, however, has posed a challenge for the aviation industry as these manmade birds are forced to curb their soaring capabilities and remain grounded at airport runways and in storage facilities. With the large scale travel bans in planes due to the pandemic, aircrafts are not only posed with the challenge of strained finances, but they are also having to deal with the burden of ensuring the aeroplanes remain viable for post-pandemic times. This means that airlines need to ensure proper maintenance of hydraulics; protection against insects and nesting birds; control humidity; and tank lubrications. While the logistics of it all is wide-ranging, some of the biggest hurdles are mass grounding, cleaning, and finding parking spots.

Mass Grounding

 

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Over the last few years, many airlines (Jet Airways, Thomas Cook, Air Italy, to name a few) have been forced to cease operations due to dwindling revenues. Now with the added burden of no-flying policies in many countries, the difficulties have heightened. The International Air Transport Association has warned that revenue from flying passengers could drop by nearly a third of a trillion dollars this year and that 25 million jobs are at risk. As a result, airlines are hunting for space on the ground or in long-term storage facilities in arid lands. Reports suggest that Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol has more than 200 aircrafts parked, with arrangements made to tow them if required. While parking charges are reportedly zero at Amsterdam’s airports, the same is not the case with other airports. In India, for example, parking a large aircraft reportedly costs USD 1,000 a day. For an airline with a fleet of more than 250 jets, even heavily discounted rates may mean expenses of USD 12.5 million for a six-month grounding, without taking into account maintenance costs. This cost could double as a ‘make-or-break’ scenario for many airlines.

Cleaning

 

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Reportedly, Etihad Airways has been working tirelessly to maintain its grounded fleet. This seemingly simplistic process, however, requires many steps such as running engines, powering up the aircraft, checking flight controls, covering sensors to prevent damage from dust, replacing seat covers, and shampooing carpets. As per reports, this process requires a staff of 200 people per shift.

Aeroplane tires require special attention, especially when parked. According to reports, Qantas Airways’ wheels requires occasional rotations by being towed on the tarmac or jacked into the air to be spun. This needs to be done every one or two weeks to prevent landing gear from getting rusted. Giant silica moisture absorption sachets are also put inside engines to keep them dry, while all external holes are blocked to prevent nesting birds.

Another big hurdle for parked fleets is brakes, which could fade in a day’s time. These parked jets require 10 to 12 chocks behind the wheels to keep them in position.

Parking Spots

 

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While is some cases, airports have storage facilities, crowded airports like New Delhi and Amsterdam are forced to park their fleets on runways itself. Additionally, over the last few years, the Asian aviation market intended on growing at a rapid pace, with many airlines buying a slew of budget carriers from Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, India and elsewhere. This expansion has consequently come to a screeching halt as storage capacities at airports are dwindling. Deliveries of aircrafts are also temporarily halted.

Related: Lockdown 2.0 In India: New Cancellation & Refund Rules, Here’s What Flyers Need To Know