How Australian airline Qantas is taking care of its grounded planes amid Covid-19

While millions of people around the world are cutting their own hair and inventing new recipes amid the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of the world’s commercial airplanes are also getting much-needed rest.

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a building

Qantas has shared a video revealing how its planes are being maintained and cared for while grounded during Australia’s lockdown measures.

John Walker, the airline’s Melbourne-based Head of Line and Intermediate Maintenance Operations, shared that the planes are getting plenty of TLC while they sit in hangars waiting for global travel to resume.

“When you park an airplane, it’s not just like parking a car,” Walker explains. “You don’t just switch it off and lock the doors.”

The planes are towed periodically around so that their wheels can rotate, and service members clean the inside and outside of the aircraft. Depending on the model of the plane, its engine must be turned on either every 15 or 30 days, and the cockpit window is covered in tinfoil so the front of the aircraft won’t get too hot.  

Parking planes can be a challenge even at the best of times. Airplanes only earn money when they’re in the sky, and it can cost hundreds of dollars per hour to pay for storage of a single plane. Fees are often determined by the weight of the plane, with huge passenger aircraft being understandably more expensive to store.

It’s also preferable to store planes in warm areas, as dry air is less likely to corrode a plane’s metal parts.

Qantas, of course, isn’t the only airline in the world taking care of its grounded planes right now. 

Airlines like Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific and Germany’s Lufthansa have grounded some 90% of their fleets, with no idea how long it will take for travel numbers to reach their pre-virus peak again.

In the meantime, though, airplanes can “have their bath before bed,” as Walker puts it, presumably with bedtime story and glass of warm milk optional.

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Qantas moves one step closer to offering world’s longest non-stop flight

Pilots working for Qantas have approved the airline’s proposals for operating nonstop flights between London and Sydney.

The Australian carrier plans to use Airbus A350 jets to launch the world’s longest air link in the first half of 2023.

The 19-hour flight would cover 10,573 miles between Heathrow and Kingsford-Smith airport in Sydney – more than 1,000 miles longer than the world’s current longest commercial route, between Singapore and New York.

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That link is temporarily grounded because of the coronavirus crisis. 

The plan to link London and Sydney is part of a wider “Project Sunrise” initiative that could also see a UK-Melbourne link, as well as flights from New York, Paris and Frankfurt to Sydney.

But in February, Qantas warned that it would hire new flight crew for the London-Sydney nonstop if existing pilots did not agree to its working arrangements for the link. These include concessions to cut costs.

At the time, the union representing Qantas pilots warned the new-hire plan could “damage the airline for many years to come”.

Discussions have continued for more than six months, with particular focus on paying the second officers less than at present. These pilots support captains and first officers on longer flights.

The airline said cutting crew costs is “a major contributor to making the Sunrise business case stack up”.

Now, members of the Australian & International Pilots Association (AIPA) have agreed to the Qantas proposals – which also include a planned annual 3 per cent pay rise and extra overtime payments for the ultra-long-haul flights. 

The airline says 85 per cent of pilots approved the deal.

But it may prove academic, as the coronavirus crisis undermines the global aviation industry. 

Qantas has grounded its entire international fleet at least until the end of May.

While the Australian airline had promised a decision on Project Sunrise by the end of March, it will be deferred until the future of aviation is clearer.

Before the grounding, Qantas flew nonstop between London Heathrow and Perth, a distance of 9,009 miles.

One effect of the coronavirus crisis that may work in the airline’s favour: the slump in the price of oil and therefore aviation fuel means that one of the biggest costs of the plan has dropped sharply.

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