With temporary suspensions of flights due to the coronavirus, aircraft lay grounded in storage facilities across the world. However, once the lockdown is lifted, these planes cannot be simply allowed to fly again - not straight away anyway.
To get them airborne requires astronomical amounts of money and meticulous maintenance procedures to keep the planes airworthy so that the fleet is ready to bounce back into action, while ensuring passenger safety, once the lockdown is lifted.
D Anand Bhaskar, Chief Executive Officer of Air Works, a major firm in the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) space, tells Sputnik that applicable original equipment manufacturers’ (OEMs) storage procedure needs to be followed depending on the number of days an aircraft is on the ground.
“If OEMs instructions are not followed during long grounding, systems failures may occur. External surfaces may get corroded, delaminated and there could be further damages due to environmental condition and foreign objects.”
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), nearly 40 percent of the world's aircraft fleet is currently grounded. In India, a fleet over of 650 aircraft has been grounded for more than a month now (since 22 March).
Standard maintenance rules state that aircraft need weekly maintenance if they are grounding for more than a month.
Talking about procedures, Bhaskar pointed out: "Internal parts such as pumps, valves, bearings, hoses and lines of engine and hydraulic systems may get affected due to the formation of fuel and oil contaminations."
Other procedures include, checking reservoirs on flap transmission and flap power drive unit, operating the engines, checking main tanks for corrosion, lubricating flight controls and all component bearings.
Challenges to Overcome
Under the current circumstances, the major challenge facing airlines are maintaining aircraft that are parked away from base, and the cost of maintenance given the non-operation of flights.
The Air Works CEO explained, "An estimated cost per narrow body aircraft would be around $13.300 (INR 10 lakh). This includes charges for parking as well as undertaking the complete set of procedures including regular checks until its return to service."
IATA points out that aircraft parking charges account for less than 2 percent of airport revenues in a normal year, but it could be the make-or-break for some airlines under the current circumstances.
The financial burden on airlines is not specific to COVID-19 restrictions. According to a report tabled in Parliament in July last year, which laid down the revenue of the airlines in last five years, all major airlines in the country including Indigo and SpiceJet were operating at a loss.
Under these circumstances, a severe blow has been delivered by COVID-19 to these already-ailing airlines. It is estimated by CAPA that many airlines may go bankrupt by the end of the May and Indian airlines are staring at a $3.6 billion loss with daily losses of around $12 million.
It remains unclear whether airlines have been able to efficiently deploy maintenance so that operation can be resumed without compromising passenger safety. Major Indian airlines did not respond to Sputnik's queries regarding this matter.
Meanwhile, the Directorate General Civil Aviation India has said that the airlines will be informed 10 days prior to the restart of domestic operations. As of now, the suspension of flights has been extended to 17 May, the day the third lockdown in scheduled to be lifted.