Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 November 2020

CORONAVIRUS

All wrapped up: how Emirates is keeping its parked jets safe

The airline has nearly 200 jets from its multibillion dollar fleet on the ground in Dubai

Almost every country in the world has enforced a Covid-19 travel restriction of some description which means there are now a lot of planes grounded across the globe.

Emirates has the world's largest wide-body fleet meaning the Dubai airline had its work cut out when passenger flights in the UAE were suspended on March 24.

The Dubai airline initially parked up 218 of its 270 fleet. The A380s and 777s were split between Dubai World Central, where 117 jets were sent, and Dubai International Airport, which took 101 of the wide-body fleet.

101 jets were parked at Dubai International Airport after UAE authorities announced passenger flight suspensions. Courtesy Emirates 
101 jets were parked at Dubai International Airport after UAE authorities announced passenger flight suspensions. Courtesy Emirates

Once parked, every engine, wheel and tail had to be covered by Emirates crew, an operation that took 15,500 hours of work.

"While a narrow-body aircraft only requires around 3-4 employees working for eight hours or so to cover it, our aircraft need 4-6 employees working a 12-hour shift. And taking extra precautions while maintaining social distancing adds its own interesting twist to the proceedings," said Ahmed Safa, senior vice president of engineering at Emirates.

In normal times, Emirates wraps any aircraft taken out of service for longer than 48 hours. It's unusual for the airline to have so many jets on the ground at one time.

The multibillion-dollar fleet is covered for protection against environmental factors like sand, dirt and water which can cause damage. The measures also stop birds and insects finding their way into the aircraft.

Cabin interiors sealed

Aircraft cabins also need maintenance with seats, in-flight entertainment systems and cabin monuments having to be covered up. Courtesy Emirates 
Aircraft cabins also need maintenance with seats, in-flight entertainment systems and cabin monuments having to be covered up. Courtesy Emirates

All engines, air data probes and exhausts had to be sealed tight and there was more work to be done inside each jet.

Emirates crew had to wrap-up all seats, in-flight entertainment systems and cabin monuments. Portable water systems and fuel tanks were also given preservation treatment.

As one of the most important elements of an aircraft, the landing gear and flight control systems were greased and cleaned by engineering crew. Everything in the cockpit was switched off and all batteries disconnected. Control lever locks and window blinds were also installed.

An ongoing task

Emirates engineering teams carry out checks on parked jets every 7, 15 and 30 days. Courtesy Emirates 
Emirates engineering teams carry out checks on parked jets every 7, 15 and 30 days. Courtesy Emirates

Once the jets are wrapped up, there's more to be done. Engineering teams complete checks on the jets every seven, 15 and 30-days. These range from simple checks like ensuring covers remain in place and looking for any damage or external leaks, to complex tests such as removing the covers to reactivate aircraft systems and turn on the engines.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen Emirates ground most of its fleet in Dubai, but it's not the first time the airline has had to carry out mass maintenance on grounded jets.

An ash cloud from the volcano eruption at Eyjafjallajökull glacier in April 2010. The event caused thousands of flight cancellations and forced airlines, including Emirates, to ground large numbers of aircraft. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
An ash cloud from the volcano eruption at Eyjafjallajökull glacier in April 2010. The event caused thousands of flight cancellations and forced airlines, including Emirates to ground large numbers of aircraft. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In April last year, the southern runway at Dubai International Airport was closed for 45 days which meant Emirates had to cut flights and carry out similar maintenance procedures for grounded jets. And in 2010, when the eruptions of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökullthe caused thousands of flight cancellations around the world, Emirates deployed similar procedures.

Getting back to normal

It takes Emirates 18-24 hours to get on of its aircraft ready to fly after being grounded. Courtesy Emirates
It takes Emirates 18-24 hours to get on of its aircraft ready to fly after being grounded. Courtesy Emirates

Today, Emirates has reintroduced several flights into service to operate repatriation flights and cargo services. The airline now has 75 jets flying to destinations across its network.

When UAE authorities lift travel restrictions, it's going to be a busy time for Emirates to get its jets airborne.

One plane needs several employees to get it ready to fly, which is not something that can be done too quickly.

“We need around 4-5 dedicated employees and at least 18-24 hours to put one of our aircraft back into service," said Safa.

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11 photos showing runways around the world becoming plane parking lots

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Read more:

Parking in a pandemic: What airlines do with the jets they can't fly

Fifteen years after the first A380 took flight, there’s now only one in the air

Watch: Etihad on why grounding a jet is nothing like parking a car

Updated: May 4, 2020 06:01 PM

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