30 April 2020
Since late March, most of AirAsia group’s 282 aircraft have been placed in hibernation at airports around Asia.
But these commercial aircrafts are not left idle.
“Our fleet may be in hibernation, but there is much to be done to maintain these technologically advanced machines. Our engineers have to make sure that all aircraft are kept in excellent condition when we are ready to fly again,” said AirAsia group head of engineering, Banyat Hansakul.
The low cost carrier had activated the Long Term Parking Procedures as part of the Aircraft Maintenance Manual (AMM) prescribed by aircraft manufacturer Airbus. The manual outlined procedures and maintenance to ensure the safety and airworthiness during a prolonged parking period.
He said overseeing the engineering and maintenance for the fleet during these challenging times is tough.
Banyat said the first question that the airline asked was where does it keep all of its 282 aeroplanes?
Its biggest regional hubs are in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, but even klia2 and Don Mueang International Airport do not have enough parking bays.
“In Kuala Lumpur, we parked some of our aircraft at the cargo terminal instead of our operating base in KLIA2. In Bangkok, there is not enough space even after parking some of our aircraft on the taxiway which was transformed into temporary parking bays.
In the end, we had to move some aircraft to Phuket International Airport and Utapao Rayong-Pattaya International Airport.
“Most of our aircraft fall into the first and second categories, and we have to keep a few active to be deployed for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) missions or cargo and charter operations,” added Banyat.
Next is covering up parts of the aircraft exposed to the environment. Any cavities or exposed equipment will have to be shielded using approved covers by the manufacturer to protect it against dust, insects, birds or any other foreign objects that might damage the system.
These include the engines, the Auxiliary Power Unit’s (APU) inlet and outlet, air data probes and, depending on grounding time, even the landing gear.
“Birds, bees or other insects nesting on idle aircraft is a known problem for all airlines, so it is not unusual. We called in the relevant authorities to help us escort our ‘stowaway guests’ away from the aircraft safely. No animals were harmed in the process,” he said.
To ensure that the prolonged pressure put on the wheels will not cause any flat spots, the aircraft is also required to be towed forward and backwards or be jacked up for wheel spinning from time to time to release tyre pressure
The engineers will also power up the aircraft engine and APU periodically according to the schedule outlined in the AMM to keep a tap on the engines’ health.
For an airline group that operates hundreds of flights a day, this hibernation presents a rare opportunity for deep cleaning and upkeep maintenance of the cabin.
All the removable panels in the cabin will be opened and thoroughly cleaned. The carpet and the curtains will be washed, all surfaces in the cabin such as the armrests and tray tables will be wiped with high-grade disinfectant.
He said maintaining such a big fleet of aircraft is definitely not an easy feat, even putting these aircraft into hibernation requires round-the-clock work and careful coordination among AirAsia’s engineers and ground teams.
“But to rest is to walk further. When this pandemic is over, we will be ready to carry our guests again, and it is paramount that we keep these aircraft safe and well-maintained for our guests,” said Banyat.