Since the end of March, most of AirAsia’s 282-strong fleet is in hibernation at a variety of Southeast Asian airports. But even parked planes need to be cared for. Here is an inside look at how AirAsia is keeping its planes in good working order.
Parking the planes
Following guidance from Airbus, AirAsia is utilizing Long Term Parking Procedures on its A320 and A330 fleet. This process is intensive and made more complicated with AirAsia’s large fleet is split up across multiple airports. At its largest regional hubs in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, there is not enough space to park a vast majority of its fleet even after using the cargo terminal and idle taxiways. As a result, some aircraft have made their way to other airports in the region, such as Phuket and Utapo Rayong-Pattaya in Thailand.
AirAsia expects most of its fleet to return to service within the next six months, which follows separate processes and guidelines than more long-term storage. In addition, some of the fleet is currently operational for humanitarian and aid flights.
Protecting the exterior
This is the most labor-intensive step of the process. AirAsia has to place external coverings to protect aircraft from the outside environment. Engines, Auxiliary Power Unit (APUs) inlets and outlets, pitot probes, static ports, and other openings on planes are meticulously covered. Even the landing gear has to be protected from corrosion.
Inspections and cleanings
Engineers must conduct daily inspections of the fleet, on the lookout for oil or hydraulic fluid leaks while confirming the exterior of the aircraft is still well protected. Every so often, air data probes must be flushed and cleaned. Any residue or build-up from time on the ground could lead to malfunctions.
These inspections are crucial for the safety and longevity of the aircraft. In fact, in March, some engineers found a bird’s nest under the wing of an Airbus A330 aircraft. Nesting from birds, bees, and insects produces a problem for parked aircraft. After all, you can’t really blame them. It is hard to find a nicer place to build a home than a shiny Airbus A330.
To remove these nests, AirAsia has to call in dedicated professionals. These authorities then remove the nests with the safety of the animals in mind.
Moving the planes
Planes do get to move around a bit while on the ground. Although it is nothing like a nice takeoff roll, the aircraft is towed forwards and backward to keep tires from getting flat. From time to time, the aircraft is jacked up to spin the wheels.
Running important parts
The engines and APU have to run periodically. This is carried out on a scheduled basis and helps keep the parts functioning.
However, for long-term storage, AirAsia has to disconnect the aircraft battery and activate “ditching mode” so that air does not get into the cabin. Engineers must also disengage the air data probe and window heating system.
A deep clean
While these planes are on the ground, AirAsia is taking the opportunity to perform some cleaning and maintenance on the aircraft. Removable panels in the cabin walls, galley, lavatory, and cockpit are removed and thoroughly cleaned.
The carpet and curtains are washed while tray tables, armrests, and seats themselves are given a good wipe and sprayed with treatments.
Parking almost 300 aircraft is no small feat. To preserve the airframe’s integrity and ensure it is ready to return to service, AirAsia’s engineers and maintenance personnel are working around the clock.
This also increases costs for the airline in the short-term. The longer the grounding, the more expensive this grounding can be for AirAsia – and airlines in general. However, with signs of ‘normal’ life starting to re-appear in Asia, AirAsia is beginning to resume operations and gradually remove these planes from hibernation.
What is the most interesting part of aircraft storage in your opinion? Let us know in the comments!