Workers Deal With Snakes While Maintaining Stored Qantas A380s

Rattlesnakes and scorpions are adding a little edge to the working day for engineers keeping an eye on Qantas A380s stored in California. Qantas reports the snakes and crusty stinging critters like having a snooze in the wheel wells and around the wheels of the A380s. Dealing with them is shaping up as a minor occupational hazard for Qantas engineers.

The Qantas A380 is not just popular with passengers – snakes like them too. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

Qantas’ Los Angeles-based engineers carry out engineers weekly, fortnightly, and monthly inspections of the A380s. According to the airline, it’s rattlesnake season in California, and their engineers have met a few of them.

One reason Qantas picked Mojave as the site to store its planes was the area’s dry heat and low humidity. It turns out snakes also like the weather there.

“It (the Mojave Desert) is also the ideal environment for the highly venomous Mojave rattlesnakes and scorpions, both of which are prone to setting up camp around the wheel wells and tires of slumbering aircraft,” says Qantas in a statement.

“We’ve encountered a few rattlesnakes and also some scorpions,” says Qantas Manager for Engineering in Los Angeles, Tim Heywood. “It’s a unique part of looking after these aircraft while they’re in storage, and it’s another sign of how strange the past year has been.

“Every aircraft has its own designated “wheel whacker” (a repurposed broom handle) as part of the engineering kit, complete with each aircraft’s registration written on it.

“The first thing we do before we unwrap and start any ground inspections of the landing gear, in particular, is to walk around the aircraft stomping our feet and tapping the wheels with a wheel whacker to wake up and scare off the snakes.”

The dedicated wheelwhacker for VH-OQA Nancy Bird Walton. Photo: Qantas

Qantas A380s get their own wheel whackers to chase off snakes

According to Qantas, their A380’s wheels, tires, and landing gear legs are wrapped in protective film in an attempt to keep animals big and small out. But during inspections, wheels need to be rotated and tire pressures checked. That means Qantas engineers need to poke around some tight confined spots. Finding a bird’s nest and some baby swallows is one thing. Having a close-up encounter with a rattlesnake is another thing and probably not covered in the latest Qantas enterprise bargaining agreement.

But Tim Heywood, as you’d expect from a hardy Qantas employee, is pretty sanguine about it all.

“The wheel whacker does its job, and they scuttle off.” How far they go, he did not say.

VH-OQC undergoing a gear swing procedure at LAX last month. Photo: Qantas

Qantas A380’s will be hanging around California for another year or two under the watchful eye of Qantas engineers. With Qantas planning to bring the jumbo jets back into service, the planes are kept in tiptop condition. But if you were riding the first flight out, you’d be having a solid look under the seat before you buckled up.

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In other Qantas news, the airline has confirmed the A380 that recently ferried to Los Angeles, VH-OQC, went there to undergo a gear swing procedure at Qantas’ LAX hangar. The 290-tonne aircraft was jacked up, and its landing gear swung up and down. Qantas says that would have given any non-fare-paying rattlesnakes a rude shock. Probably not as shocked as the humans on and around the plane would have been.