Qantas’ twelve-strong fleet of Airbus A380s will remain on the ground “for at least three years,” says Qantas CEO Alan Joyce – but there’s more to parking a superjumbo than finding a spare patch of tarmac and powering down the engines.
Even after an A380 has been prepared for long-term storage, some will require maintenance every week during the grounding, with Qantas engineering staff on-hand to keep the aircraft ready to fly again in the future.
Here’s what goes into 'hibernating' a Qantas A380.
Parking an A380 begins with a good clean
Even though these jets won’t welcome passengers for some time, they first get a thorough cleaning.
After each superjumbo’s last passenger flight – for now, of course – staff wipe down surfaces like inflight entertainment screens, tray tables and arm rests using disinfectant, as well as other parts of the aircraft including the cabin walls and window shades.
On the outside, the A380s get a solid wash, too.
John Walker, Qantas’ Head of Maintenance, quips that the process “is like giving (the A380) a bath before bed.”
Next come the tyres and landing gear
Airbus A380s are a heavy beast, each weighing up to 560 tonnes when fully loaded: but even without passengers and cargo, there’s still a lot of weight placed onto the tyres.
In fact, to help prevent planes from moving or even tipping over during heavy winds and storms, jets are typically parked with lots of fuel in their tanks – adding further to that mass, which can see the plane’s otherwise-round tyres developing ‘flat spots’ if left unattended.
To keep the tyres alive, they need to be rotated regularly: either by towing the aircraft slightly to redistribute all that weight, or by hoisting the superjumbo up onto a jack, allowing the tyres to be turned manually.
The landing gear also gets coated in hydraulic fluid, which protects against rust.
The engines continue to rumble
Even while parked, the A380’s engines need to be fired up regularly – between once a week and once a month – to keep them ready to roll when passengers return to the skies.
When the engines aren’t enjoying their work-out on the ground, cowlings are placed over them which keeps out dust, birds and insects.
Giant silica absorption packets are also inserted into the engines and placed throughout the aircraft cabin to maintain humidity levels.
Over 100kg of these are used for each aircraft: that’s over 1.2 tonnes across Qantas’ 12 superjumbos. That’s a lot of silica – not unlike those little sachets you’d find in your suitcase – but on a much larger scale.
Pitot tubes and the APU get covered, too
Like the engines, opening for the plane’s auxiliary power unit and other sensors are covered to keep small birds and insects at bay.
“When you park an aeroplane, it’s not like parking a car – you don’t just switch it off and lock the doors,” Walker underscores. “We actually do lots of maintenance on the aircraft to ensure it’s in a maintainable condition when it comes back to service.”
Flying into an uncertain future
Qantas’ Airbus A380s will be kept in storage at facilities in Victorville, California: about a two-hour drive from Qantas’ maintenance base at Los Angeles International Airport, allowing engineers to perform work on the superjumbos while they’re ‘sleeping’.
(Qantas’ Boeing 747s will instead be parked at a separate facility in the Mojave Desert, the airline confirms, which is a similar drive from LAX for any required maintenance before the planes find a new owner, or are scrapped for parts.)
Speaking of the A380s, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce says that “we have the intention at the right time to restart them, but that is a considerable amount of time away."
"There is a potential to bring all 12 (A380s) back (into service), but there is a potential to bring less than 12 back," Joyce previously told Executive Traveller.
"That will depend on what the recovery scenario looks like.... we don’t know when the big markets like the US and the UK, which use the A380s, will open, and when.”
For now, these birds will remain in their nest, until the skies clear and they can stretch their wings once again.