How Do Airlines Prepare Planes For Long-Term Storage?

In recent months, airlines all over the world have had to send portions of their fleet to long-term storage. While we’ve touched on this in recent articles, today we’ll go over everything that airlines do to prepare their fleets for an extended period on the ground.

How Do Airlines Prepare Planes For Long-Term Storage?
Brussels Airlines is storing its fleet at Brussels Airport. Photo: Brussels Airlines

Step 1: ‘Right-sizing’

So this step isn’t technically part of preparing an aircraft for long-term storage. However, selecting which aircraft in a fleet to keep active, and which to park (‘right-sizing’) is undoubtedly part of the bigger picture.

The biggest question an airline will need to ask is, “how much use will I get out of this aircraft if I keep it active?”

In recent months we’ve seen larger jets selected for long-term storage before smaller models. This decision is due to decreased capacity and the anticipation that the airline will not be able to achieve a profitable load factor. Sadly, the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 were the first types to be parked.

Emirates, Airbus A380, Storage
Over 100 Emirates aircraft are currently being stored at Dubai World Central Airport. Photo: Emirates

Step 2: Picking a parking spot

While aircraft are durable machines, their storage locations will determine how much regular maintenance is required to keep them in good condition. We know that aircraft boneyards are situated in areas that are low in humidity and don’t experience much rain. That’s because rain and moisture will increase the rate of corrosion for certain parts, whereas arid spots will slow these effects.

Common spots we’ve seen thus far include:

  • The Mojave desert of the southwestern United States
  • Western Spain, in an area known as Teruel
  • Alice Springs in the geographical center of Australia

Some airlines have opted to store their aircraft at their main hub airports, proving that it’s still possible to park aircraft in more temperate and humid locations. It’s just not as ideal.

Lufthansa, Airbus A380, Frankfurt
Last month Air France revealed it had retired its remaining A380 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Step 3: Protecting the plane

Once the aircraft and their parking spots have been chosen, it’s now a matter of flying them there and performing the necessary work to protect them from the elements. This is the real prep work of long-term aircraft storage.

As Brussels Airlines and Emirates have shown us, preparation includes the following steps:

  • All windows are taped to prevent sunlight from decoloring the interior.
  • Landing gears and engines are thoroughly packed to prevent corrosion and birds nesting.
  • Openings that are vulnerable to sand, dirt, water, birds, and insects, are wrapped up and made watertight. This includes engines and air data collectors, including pitot, static, temperature, angle of attack sensors, as well as engine intakes and exhausts, and APU intakes and exhausts.
  • Greasing, cleaning, and preserving the landing gear and flight control systems.
  • All cockpit switches are turned off. Batteries are disconnected, window blinds are lowered.
  • All seats are covered to keep them clean.

According to Henry Harteveldt, an airline analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, if an airline plans to store its planes for several months, the jets will need to be put into an “airplane coma.” This involves the further steps of draining or replacing all liquids and sealing the doors.

Exterior coverings
Maintenance personnel are pictured here, installing a cover on the engine of an Airbus A330. Photo: AirAsia

Epilogue: Monitoring and maintenance

After this, routine fleet-wide checks are conducted at set intervals. This ranges from a simple walk-around inspection to a complicated check that includes removing the covers and reactivating aircraft systems, idling engines and testing engine bleed air and flight control systems.

Additionally, tires have to be rotated every so often, to prevent warping and bulging from the weight of the aircraft resting on these specific spots. Moving tires can either be done by lifting the plane gear-by-gear or rolling the entire plane a short distance.

Once it’s time to fly again, Emirates says that it requires 4-5 dedicated employees at least 18-24 hours to put just one of its aircraft back into service.

Is this what you imagined would be required to store an aircraft? Or were you expecting something simpler or more complicated? Let us know in the comments.