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Aussie airline Qantas shows how it hibernates its jets during pandemic

The airline industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus, with countless commercial jets grounded until the worst of the pandemic passes.

But what needs to be done to prepare a commercial jet for a lengthy hibernation, and what kind of maintenance work has to be carried out while it waits for the travel industry to get off the ground again?

Qantas, Australia’s national carrier, recently knocked together a video showing how it’s managing its own fleet of more than 200 aircraft currently parked at various airports around the country. And it’s more work than you might think.

Qantas: Hibernating Aircraft

Prior to being put to bed, every part of each plane’s interior receives a deep clean, while the outside of the aircraft gets a good hosing down, too.

Aircraft engines also require special attention if they’re out of action for an extended period. Take the A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, of which Qantas currently has 12 in its fleet. Each engine on these planes is worth $25 million, so careful maintenance is absolutely vital.

Part of the work involves keeping the inside of the engines free of moisture. This is done by inserting “giant versions of the silica moisture-absorption sachets,” according to Qantas, adding that “one A380 requires over a hundred kilos of these moisture absorbers to maintain humidity levels in the cabin and engines.”

And here’s something you might not have considered — when a jet plane isn’t moving for long periods of time, all of the various gaps and holes on its fuselage, such as the pitot and static sensors, can soon become nesting spots for insects and birds. To prevent these unwanted passengers from climbing aboard, all of these spaces need to be plugged.

Other prep work includes the application of hydraulic fluid on to the landing gear to protect it from rust.

Once the preparation work is complete and the aircraft is parked, you can’t just walk away and forget about it. For example, its engines need to be fired up every week or so to keep them in tip-top shape. The rest of the time, they’re covered with cowlings to protect them from dust and insects.

The plane’s wheels also need to be rotated every seven to 14 days to prevent the tires from becoming deformed with so-called “flat spots.” This involves towing the aircraft along the tarmac or using a jack to lift it into the air to spin the wheels before putting it down again.

As you can see, it’s a fair bit of work to keep the planes ready for action, with airlines everywhere currently taking similar steps for their own fleets.

“Engineers from Qantas and Jetstar [a Qantas subsidiary] are quietly tending to these sleeping beauties, and we’re all looking forward to the day when they can welcome passengers back on board and take to the skies again,” the airline said.

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