get a peek at how Etihad gets jets ready to fly again

At the height of the global pandemic, the sky was eerily empty as the world was rushing down the doors to the coronavirus pandemic. Countries have closed their borders to travelers and airlines have grounded planes as Covid-19 cases surge, denting travel demand. In April last year, more than 16,000 aircraft were grounded worldwide, according to flight data provider Cirium.

In addition to bringing the airline industry to its knees in what the International Air Transport Association called the “darkest hour” in the industry, the pandemic has also brought new challenges to airlines that suddenly had thousands of planes parked from nose to tail or wingtip to wingtip on a runway. the airport. .

Fast forward to today as Covid-19 related travel restrictions in many destinations are starting to ease and the demand for air travel is again increasing.

Domestic flights are driving that recovery, and are expected to reach 93 percent of pre-crisis levels next year, according to the latest figures from Iata. And while international travel continues to be delayed due to border restrictions and complex testing rules, those numbers are also increasing as the association expects to reach 44 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

Safe return to flight

While this return to service has been patiently and eagerly awaited by global airlines, its arrival is not without challenges. Now, thousands of planes, some of which have not flown for several months, should be ready to take to the skies again.

In June, the European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency issued a directive covering the Airbus A320 family that states that “an increasing number of operational disruptions due to airspeed discrepancies” have been reported upon their return to the air. Boeing also said earlier that extensive preparations must be made to bring the planes back into service from long-term storage.

In the United Arab Emirates, a major global hub for air travel, Etihad Airways has been one of the airlines most affected by the global pandemic. Abu Dhabi Airlines was forced to ground the majority of its fleet when the UAE closed its airspace to help curb the spread of Covid-19, in April 2020.

When this initial flight ban was lifted, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, like many other airlines around the world, had to keep many of its planes on the ground as there was very little demand for commercial air travel.

(Files) In this August 13, 2019 photo, Boeing 737 Max planes are seen parked near Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington.  Nearly six months after grounding its 737 Max jets, Boeing is now close to filing for re-certification of the plane, according to sources, but the timeframe for flights to resume remains murky.  Regulators will have the final say on when the planes will return to service, hampering expectations, in part due to signs of disagreement between US and international regulators.  / AFP / Getty Images North America / David Ryder

But with the UAE recently easing entry restrictions amid rising vaccination rates around the world, the federation is preparing for its comeback.

The airline has reported a spike in travel demand since Abu Dhabi lifted quarantine restrictions on vaccinated passengers, and ticket sales for the upcoming festive period showed a thirst for travel.

With travel markets rapidly reopening and consumer confidence rapidly increasing, Etihad Airways is seeing increased demand for travel. In particular, with Abu Dhabi announcing that it would welcome fully vaccinated passengers without quarantine, we have seen an increase in bookings to and from the UAE, and this was a very welcome step,” said Martin Drew, Senior Vice President of Sales and Cargo at Etihad Airways.

“Since the pandemic, we have introduced a more flexible and flexible approach to network planning, allowing us to respond when state borders reopen. As a medium-sized carrier, we have the opportunity to do so, and it is an opportunity that we are taking advantage of.”

The challenge of getting planes back into the air: dirt, sand, insects and birds

Etihad Airways Engineering, the Middle East's leading provider of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), has expanded its existing aircraft painting capacity in buildings adjacent to Abu Dhabi International Airport by converting the Hangar 5 into a state-of-the-art model.  paint shed.  Courtesy Union *** Local Caption *** bz09oc-regionbriefs.jpg

To keep pace with these route restarts, the union must ensure it has enough aircraft ready to meet passenger demand. The airline is working to return more of its ground fleet to the air, and preparations are being made at Etihad Airways Engineering, a sprawling purpose-built facility located near Abu Dhabi International Airport.

“This aircraft here is an Airbus A320, and it was grounded three months ago,” says Rami Awadallah, Etihad’s director of fleet engineering, when we joined him at the facility.

“We’re actually putting it back into service and that’s why it’s now in our maintenance facility.”

When a multimillion-dollar plane doesn’t work at some point, making it fly again isn’t as simple as turning on the engine. Instead, this narrow structure is put into its stride by a highly specialized crew of engineers and technicians. After being on the ground for more than three months, an Airbus plane must undergo a series of checks and pass several inspections before it can fly again.

This includes airworthiness checks, routine maintenance, cabin inspections, cleaning operations, and disinfection of the entire cabin. And all of this happens in addition to the ongoing maintenance that took place while the aircraft was idle.

“Unlike cars where you can simply park and often forget about them, with an airplane that needs to be constantly maintained if it is parked, or even when it is being stored,” Abdullah says.

24 hour operation

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - October 24: An engine check of an Etihad carrier aircraft is being carried out at Etihad Airways' engineering facilities.  (Photo by Reem Mohamed/The National) Reporter: Mustafa Al-Alawi Department: BZ

Parked aircraft get regular attention as the backlog is drained each week and mechanical parts, such as the landing gear, have to be routinely lubricated. There are also inspections on things like engine inlets to make sure they are protected from corrosion and rust buildup.

These planes also need protection from the elements, which is achieved by encasing the plane to protect it from things like sand and dirt that can cause further damage. Encapsulation helps protect against moisture, which averages about 60 percent in the Abu Dhabi desert. These measures also help prevent birds and insects from making their way onto the plane.

On top of regular checks, each time a parked aircraft is brought back into service, Etihad prepares a team of 20 experts to work through an in-depth maintenance programme, something that can take up to 24 hours per aircraft.

“We start with cleaning the outside of the aircraft, so that it allows us to clearly communicate the inspection, then this is followed by operating the aircraft and doing some important functional tests and checks,” says Abdullah.

“These can range from checking the flight controls, to the hardware on board the aircraft right down to the engines where we run them to make sure they’re working properly.”

Flight control systems are a critical system of aircraft which is responsible for managing the aircraft’s stability and maneuverability based on the pilot’s commands during flight. As part of the system inspection, engineers test flight control surfaces to ensure there are no obstructions and that the hydraulically powered actuators are operating efficiently.

The static air pressure sensor, used to indicate the altitude of an aircraft on the pilot’s instruments, should also be tested. These sensors are shut off when the plane is parked, so they need to go through a full check before the plane can be cleared to fly again.

Preparation for passengers: complete disinfection of the cabin

Another part of the process is making sure each plane is also prepared to welcome passengers.

“We initially do a very detailed cleaning that includes cleaning the seats, carpets, overhead bins and all areas of the cabin. Next, we perform a full functional check of the cabin using our technical team, making sure that all aircraft systems and all seats are working properly.”

Other areas and facilities including bathrooms, kitchen, coffee makers, ovens, and food coolers are also tested to ensure they are still operating properly. Technical teams replace or repair any part of the aircraft that has been damaged or broken while on the ground.

Boeing.  Boeing test and evaluation, flight test, ecoD, eco Demonstrator, 787-10, ZC069, UV Wand

When the team is satisfied that the aircraft is operating optimally, Etihad Airways performs cabin maintenance as part of its health campaign that has been introduced to protect travelers traveling during the global pandemic.

“We then perform the cabin fogging process, which includes a complete survey of all contact point areas in the cabin, and at the end, we perform the cabin fogging… We spray a mist that covers all the air with a sanitizing product,” explains Abdullah.

With the final process complete, the narrow hull is ready to return to the Etihad Airways fleet and carry passengers on their flights again.

“As we see an intensification of operations around the world, with countries opening their borders, we are bringing more aircraft back into service,” says Abdullah, who is bracing for a busy final few months in 2021.

Updated: November 2, 2021, 5:48 am

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