Parked but not forgotten: Maintaining Finnair’s fleet while grounded
With Finnair’s capacity cut by 90 per cent due to coronavirus, aircraft that would usually be flying routes across Europe, Asia and North America have had to be grounded. But parking an airplane isn’t like leaving a car on the drive. It requires extensive maintenance, not to mention lots of space.
Parked up in Helsinki
“Alongside our natural Helsinki hub we have established capability to park aircraft also in Rovaniemi and Tampere,” explains Jukka Glader, Finnair’s VP of Ground Operations. Currently, though, only Helsinki is being used, with no plans to use airports other than those at Rovaniemi and Tampere.
“In practice, it is much easier to ground all at the Helsinki hub,” says Glader. “All grounded aircraft need applicable minimum servicing.”
This servicing is vital for ensuring that aircraft are fit to fly when they are called back into service, hopefully sooner rather than later.
“From the technical point of view there are a whole lot of actions that must be done - especially, when the aircraft are parked in “flight-ready” condition,” says Glader. “This means that the aircraft and its systems are maintained and tested regularly even if all the sensitive systems and components like engines and air data probes, such as those for speed and altitude, are covered and protected.”
Regular check ups
Finnair’s Airbus fleet requires separate checks every seven, 14 and 30 days. Seven day checks are the most basic, with a visual once over of the airplane and all of its protective equipment. The 14 day check is more involved. Aircraft batteries are reconnected and the main electrical systems energized. This is followed by various system tests on things like flight controls and wheel brakes.
The 30 day check requires maintenance staff to carry out much more extensive work. All external protections are removed and the engines are started. Air conditioning, anti–ice systems, on the wings and in the engine, are all inspected to ensure there are no problems. Once this is done, the airplane is placed back into parking status.
“This cycle will continue – we hope – for a maximum of up to three months,” says Glader.
“Aircraft parking employs our staff more than expected,” he adds. “Even if the aircraft is parked it is essential to follow the technical instructions and recommendations of the aircraft and engine manufacturers.”
The good news is that, with all of this maintenance, getting Finnair planes back into the air, when the time is right, will not take long.
“We have roughly estimated that preparation of one aircraft into flight condition will take one whole day,” says Glader, although it could be even faster.
One of the biggest challenges in parking the majority of Finnair’s fleet has been ensuring the brakes are still in good shape.
“When an aircraft is parked for a longer period of time the parking brakes will fade even if they are set on. For most aircraft types this will happen within 24 hours,” says Glader. Usually, that means placing four chocks behind each set of wheels on an aircraft. But these are not normal times. Between 10 and 12 chocks are now required for each plane. And with so many parked up outside in Helsinki, there simply weren’t enough to go around. Step forward local carpenters in the Finnish capital.
“No one wants to see the 150-ton aircraft rolling on its own on the tarmac!” says Glader.
“This is where Finnair Engineering jumped in and proposed the manufacturing of temporary wooden chocks – “Corona Chocks”. A local carpentry shop was contacted and no less than 500 wooden chocks were custom made for Finnair within two weeks of the order being placed.”
It’s another case of people pulling together in a time of crisis. But hopefully it won’t be too long before Finnair’s planes are back where they belong: up in the sky, taking customers all over the world.