Are planes parked just like cars? Or do special precautions need to be taken? Find out more in this article!
Parked Aircraft of Austrian Airlines
In regular times, about 25,000 commercial aircraft are in service worldwide. Every day, around 100,000 flights are operated and more than six million passengers are transported. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, this number decreased significantly within a few weeks. The International Air Transport Association "IATA" estimates that in April 2020, 90% of all commercial aircraft worldwide are grounded. Around the globe, numerous aircraft are parked on the apron of various airports, including Vienna International Airport. But are planes parked just like cars? Do special precautions need to be taken? And how much does such a parking facility actually cost? Jens Ritter, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Austrian Airlines, gives us an insight.
First of all: What are the usual tasks of a COO at Austrian Airlines?
Main Tasks as COO of Austrian Airlines
I am basically responsible for the entire operation at Austrian Airlines. This includes the technical department, the maintenance and provision of the aircraft, the entire training of flight attendants and pilots, the whole operational management - for example, which pilot and which flight attendant need to be on which flight and when - up to where do we fly to, which aircraft do we use for this purpose and how do we exchange the aircraft. Of course, this also includes the personnel management of pilots and thus, also the entire ground operation.
This includes the stations, the check-in area, ticketing and handling on the apron. In addition, special attention is paid to safety and compliance. I am therefore responsible for ensuring the observation of regulations and that we comply with them.
As a result of COVID-19, the majority of Austrian aircraft are currently grounded. How does it feel to manage parked aircraft now?
Management of Grounded Aircraft
To be honest, I am quite upset that almost all Austrian aircraft are lined up neatly on the apron and everything has come to a standstill - and not as a result of wrong decisions, mismanagement or competition, but due to a virus. Of course, this is very depressing for all of us. But despite all the sadness, we are also looking ahead, because things will go on. We will be able to deal with it and we will fly again. It is just a matter of time.
How many Austrian aircraft are currently parked on the apron?
Number of Grounded Austrian Aircraft at Vienna International Airport
Currently, 64 aircraft are parked here on the apron of the airport, another eight are in maintenance, i.e. overhaul. In addition, twelve aircraft are in use for repatriation and cargo flights.
Would you like to learn more about Austrian Airlines' repatriation flights? Read more here.
What has to be done to park an Austrian aircraft? What needs to be prepared?
Preparations and Requirements for Aircraft Parking
One of the most important steps is to cover all openings of the aircraft - i.e. engines, speedometers and all other openings. As a result, no dirt, animals or foreign bodies can accumulate inside them. However, this process is also implemented in normal times, whenever an aircraft is on the ground for more than 48 hours. In cooperation with Vienna International Airport and in consideration of our fleet, we have also planned the location and sequence of the aircraft. In this way, we were able to agree on a sensible and precise sequence and also took a quick ramp-up possibility into account.
How many people are required for this parking process?
Number of Required People to Park an Aircraft
We always measure it in man-hours. To park an aircraft, for example an A320, we need about 130 to 150 man-hours. Therefore, to park an aircraft within one day, it needs about 15 men at ten hours each. In practice, however, we always separate it in two up to three shifts with about eight to ten people.
How much does it approximately cost to park an aircraft?
Parking Costs of Austrian Airlines Aircraft
The parking process of an aircraft requires, as already described, about 150 man-hours. We calculate the support of the aircraft during the parking process with approximately 20 man-hours per week. Once we start flying again, we need another 150 man-hours to get the aircraft ready for take-off.
Do airlines have manufacturer's instructions for parking their aircraft?
Manufacturer's Instructions for Parking an Aircraft
Each manufacturer has certain regulations which need to be observed. However, due to the experience we are constantly gaining, we often go beyond the manufacturer's standards. For example, every airline has the opportunity to tighten its nets and covers even further, which is something we often do at Austrian Airlines. In addition, we often have a premature parking process. In other words, we do not just cover our aircraft after 48 hours, but usually earlier.
Are the tyres always checked? And do the engines have to be started occasionally?
Austrian Aircraft Check During Parking
It always depends on how long the aircraft is grounded. Basically, we can park a plane for up to 3 months without having to move it. However, we have to jack up the aircraft in between to check the landing gear, brakes and tyres. We have to pay special attention to the tyres. The engines can remain covered up to 3 months. But of course, inspections are necessary before operation. So in advance of every test flight, the engines are booted and tested to ensure their performance.
What is the biggest challenge right now?
Biggest Challenge During the COVID-19 Crisis
The uncertainty. In all areas, this is probably the biggest challenge that we are currently facing. We are constantly asking ourselves: When will air traffic start again? How many planes will we need? When do we need the crew? However, the entire industry, if not the entire economy, is currently facing this uncertainty. Nevertheless, we are also well prepared. We are constantly analysing and are confident that we will be able to start smoothly again as soon as we are allowed to.
In the end, what is necessary to get the aircraft back up in the air?
Necessities for Ramp-Up
First of all, we will remove all covers again, test the tires and brakes and start the auxiliary power units and engines. We will check the hydraulic fluids, move and test all rudders and flaps hydraulically and conduct functional tests in the cockpit, including software updates. All in all, a comprehensive inspection. According to the manufacturer, an A320 needs about 120 man-hours for this. But we will calculate 150 man-hours to restart operations efficiently and as safely as possible.