We all witnessed images of parked airplanes in every part of the airport during this last year. Lockdown and restricted air travel brought airlines to keep thousands of planes on the ground.
Most of these airplanes spent months without flying, but as new safety measures are put in place to deal with Covid-19, we are seeing more flights scheduled for the next months. This means that airplanes need to be ready at any time to bring passengers to their destination.
Let’s see how airlines are maintaining their planes “fit to fly”.
How to Maintain an Airplane Fit during Covid-19 Pandemic
With current restrictions still in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ferry Flights (without passengers) are being scheduled by airlines as required to keep the fleet serviceable and maintain crew currency (pilots need to achieve 3 take-offs and landings in the previous 90 days). Therefore, each airline rostering team is currently working round the clock to manage these activities.
Continued airworthiness for passenger aircrafts, in fact, requires one flight every 7 days. For this reason, the goal for most airlines is currently to operate each plane within each 7 days to account for unexpected issues that might arise. Before each of these so-called Maintenance or Recency flights, engineers must carry out the required maintenance actions so that all aircrafts are ready to operate as planned.
Through the aeroplane TechLog, pilots must first of all confirm the aircraft status, and verify that all required maintenance checks are completed before departure, paying particular attention to the removal of pitot probe covers, APU plugs (Auxiliary Power Unit), etc…
These “Ferry” flights are normally planned to depart and land at the same operating base.
However, pilots who are scheduled to operate Recency flights must make sure that these are still carried out in a safe, efficient, and punctual manner as per any other flight with passengers on board.
How Pilots Perform Ferry Flights
If the pre-flight planning identifies risks – such as weather or NOTAMS affecting the airspace – that prevent completing the planned profile (usually a standard circuit around the airfield), the Captain would be expected to contact the Company Operation Department. Despite the exceptional nature of these unusual operations, during the flight it is strictly unacceptable to deviate from the planned flight profiles unless required for flight safety.
The flight can be planned under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) on the basis of a take-off, followed by a Standard Instrument Departure (SID), “clean up” the aircraft (with flaps retracted), fly standard traffic speeds and prepare for an approach and landing. The actual flight profiles usually depends on local Air Traffic Control arrangements.
For Non-Commercial Operations without passengers and Cabin Crew, Pilots are expected to carry out and complete all security checks of the galleys, cabin and toilets of the aircraft. The commander is to ensure that all equipment is properly secured, however, this duty may be delegated to the First Officer. Only forward doors’ slides are armed for any ground emergency, while the aft doors remain disarmed.
Pilots are still expected to be in full uniform and carry flying license and passport with them as required by their Company Operations Manual.
Concluding, I want to say that these reassuring safety measures keep passengers and crews safe. We are all aware that we will still see some strong restrictions in travelling in the next months, but Aviation and the people working in this industry have reacted brilliantly to maintain a high level of safety and service to passengers.