Four A330 aircraft will spend the winter parked in Southern France | Finnair Finland
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Four A330 aircraft will spend the winter parked in Southern France

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a big drop in air travel and for Finnair this means a temporary need for fewer planes in operation. The Finnish winter with high humidity and snow presents a challenge for long-term parking of aircraft, while the climate in Southern France is more favourable. Four Finnair A330 wide-body aircraft will be flown to Tarbes, France for the winter.

Johanna Joutsiniemi

The aircraft will be parked temporarily because a smaller fleet is enough to operate our scheduled and charter flights during the winter season. Finnair has sought solutions for long-term parking and maintenance together with partners, and four wide-body planes will be parked at our partner’s premises in Southern France, where the weather conditions are more suitable. The first of them will fly southbound at the end of November.

In Southern France, the temperature and humidity are kinder than in Finland for long-term parking. “There are several aspects that need to be considered. For example, Tarbes is located far enough from the ocean, which means no saline environment. This is important for aircraft engines and aluminium parts to avoid potential corrosion issues,” says Marko Anttila, responsible for aircraft fleet technical airworthiness at Finnair.

Customer experience and fuel efficiency playing key roles

Finnair has altogether 24 wide-body aircraft, owned or leased, of which the majority are fuel-efficient Airbus A350s.

"We operate the majority of our scheduled flights with A350 aircraft, because they are fuel-efficient, and also because they are our best aircraft from a customer experience point of view," says Sampo Paukkeri, responsible for aircraft maintenance at Finnair.

“Only a small number of flights are now operated in comparison to the previous year, and we simply have too many aircraft for our current needs. In this situation, we have decided to park those A330 aircraft that are not reserved for cargo use.”

When the corona epidemic started, Finnair engineers modified some of Finnair’s wide-body planes for cargo use by removing a part of the passenger seats from the cabin. These aircraft are still used exclusively for Finnair’s cargo-only flights, and cargo is carried both in the belly and in the cabin.

Extensive maintenance programme during the long-term parking

Even in November, the weather in Tarbes is almost summery. Aircraft from several European airlines are parked in regular lines in a gated airport area. The pandemic led to an unprecedented need for long-term parking of aircraft, and parking on this scale has never happened before.

Finnair pilots fly the aircraft to Southern France as transfer flights. A transfer flight is scheduled, planned and performed just as any other flight, but the difference is that there are no passengers or cabin crew on board.

The planes cannot be left without attention even when parked in favourable climate conditions. They are maintained regularly, in accordance with a pre-defined maintenance schedule. An extensive list of maintenance activities is included – some of them performed weekly, some bimonthly, monthly or every three months.

Tarmac Aerosave, the leading operator specialising in aircraft parking and on-site maintenance in Europe, is responsible for taking care of Finnair's planes in Tarbes.

“During long-term parking, it is important to take good care of the cabin as well. The seats and windows are covered to protect them. The humidity and temperature in the cabin are actively monitored and if humidity is too high, actions are taken to reduce humidity”, says Marko Anttila.

Back to the skies

Eventually, the planes will go back to serving Finnair routes. At the end of the parking period, the protective materials are removed, and extensive tests are performed to ensure the airworthiness and safety of the aircraft. Every plane will perform a test flight before returning to commercial operations.

“These aircraft will stay in Southern France at least over the winter, or longer if needed,” says Ann-Sofie Snåre, working as a director in fleet asset management. “We estimate that the overall recovery of air travel may take several years, but as demand for passenger traffic recovers, we will be able to bring our aircraft swiftly back into operation.”

It remains to be seen whether migrating birds or Finnair’s A330 wide-body aircraft are the first to take to the skies and head home to Finland in the spring.

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