Faced with this unprecedented health crisis, Air France has significantly reduced its activity. The company is currently operating approximately 5% of its usual flight schedule, and 180 out of the 224 aircraft that make up its fleet are currently grounded and placed in storage at Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Paris-Orly and Toulouse Blagnac, where Air France owns a maintenance base. Although numerous airports are fully or partially closed, operations continue behind the scenes. Every day, some 1,000 agents working at the different aircraft storage sites look after the grounded aircraft and maintain in operating condition the 40-odd aircraft that continue to connect the French regions and serve key destinations in Europe and worldwide. Air France also continues to operate repatriation flights for French and European nationals, in coordination with the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, as well as freighter flights, notably to/from China, as part of the airlift set up to transport medical equipment.
EACH AIRCRAFT RECEIVES SPECIAL CARE AND ATTENTION
Organising this type of aircraft storage operation – the first-ever of its kind in the history of air transport – is painstaking work carried out in accordance with aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing’s recommendations.
Among the 3 existing types of aircraft storage operations*, Air France has opted for a so-called “active” storage, adapted to aircraft grounded for a duration of between 1 and 3 months, and requiring about 150 hours of work spread over 3 phases –
- Initial storage, the longest phase, which involves protecting the aircraft and getting it ready for storage, and notably includes –
- The installation of tarps and panels to block all the air vents where insects or animals could come and nest.
- The obstruction of the engines or blocking of the fan blades, depending on the aircraft type
- A thorough cleaning of critical zones such as landing gear and hydraulic systems
- The lubrication of the landing gear and wing components
- Checks on humidity levels
- Recurrent operations, whose frequency depends on the aircraft type and the manufacturer’s recommendations, comprising –
- Checks to ensure the protections in place are in good condition
- Visual inspections of the aircraft and system checks
- Moving the aircraft over a distance of a few metres to alleviate the stress on the tyres or rotating of the wheels without moving the aircraft, using a jack
- Switching on the engines and APU (auxiliary power unit)
- Initial removal from storage, which paves the way for the aircraft’s return to service. This phase involves up to 2 days of work removing the different protective equipment set up around the aircraft and checks to ensure that everything is in correct working order ready to resume flight operations in compliance with the company’s procedures and regulatory requirements.
GÉRY MORTREUX, Executive Vice President Engineering & Maintenance, added: “In these special circumstances, our priority is the safety of our flights, our customers and our staff. At the present time, we monitor our entire fleet on a daily basis, with each of our aircraft receiving special care and attention. Nothing is left to chance. For the time being, we are limiting on-site presence while observing hygiene measures such as social distancing, the provision of masks, gloves, hydroalcoholic gel and wipes as well as regularly disinfecting our premises. Our primary mission is to ensure our fleet of aircraft are maintained in the best possible condition so that we can put our aircraft back in the air in complete safety as soon as this becomes possible”.
* “Normal” parking 2 to 4 weeks maximum; “active” storage of 1 to 3 months; “Extended” storage for periods of over 3 months.