How Qantas will hibernate its Airbus A380 for the next three years

There's more to putting a superjumbo to sleep than merely shutting down the computer, and turning off the engines...

By Chris Chamberlin , July 7 2020
How Qantas will hibernate its Airbus A380 for the next three years

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.

Also read: Qantas to park all Airbus A380s until at least 2023

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 301

No doubt we all can't wait to see them back in the skies, preferably before 2023.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 760

Interesting SQ parking theirs in Alice an QF in the US. Mus be pre-arranged deals and good prices etc as well as QF's LA Base nearby to keep an eye on them.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 493

Part of me can't help but think a few A380's should remain on the ground in SYD or Aus in case things unexpectedly pick up; perhaps till Christmas. Just as you need to prep for worst case scenario, you also need to be prep'ed for best case.

I had to laugh at "thorough cleaning"- Qantas like baggage does this super poorly. I've travelled F, J and Y with QF and have 80% of the time found crumbs in seats, unwiped tray tables, poorly vacuumed cabins and windows either not cleaned or cleaned with dirty cloth leaving water or dirt marks on windows. Compare this to Qatar aircraft which are nearly always super immaculate on boarding. Quality control?

05 May 2016

Total posts 577

They can easily fly the planes back to AU when needed whether that's sooner or later. If services resume with the US e.g. LAX-SYD would be needed to get a plane that flies SYD-LAX back to AU anyway.

Same experience here, the aircraft often spotless when flying out from Oz home base. Not much so on the return leg, or after transit stop like LAX-JFK. Perhaps Qantas has less control on oversea cleaning contractors .

you would think that some of the A380 fleet should continue flying, on a low frequency basis, in low season & until things pick up in a month or 3 & then fly harder in peak seasons like Xmas school holidays & June/July/August.

Was trying out bookings for latter this year and early 2021. The QF A380 still show up on many schedules.

I wonder will the flights be cancelled or Joyce will try and slip in a substitute while no one watching.

27 Nov 2019

Total posts 135

obviously long haul flights will be operating unrestricted by end of 2020. Then Qantas can use whatever aircraft justifies loading/yield.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

19 Mar 2018

Total posts 41

No, you can switch off the new gen like A380 and younger, then turn on and off once every 30 days. This way, they will be cryrogenically frozen, so to speak. I have heard however... that Qantas is gifting it to someone else.

I hear UA, CX, KL may be new A380 operators.

Anyways I think the plane can be neoed with

Also, wasn't Qantas moving to SIN for 4 years? Singapore - Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul. TYO last min market might need 380 critically. The residents are too uncomfortable with flightpaths over Tokyo for Haneda.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Aug 2016

Total posts 59

Chris, did you mean to say in the first line under "Flying into an uncertain future":

"Qantas Airbus A380's would normally be kept...in Victorville"?

Wow, up to 3 years and the cost for maintaining them won't be paltry. If they don't come back in service, I doubt we'll have a send-off like the 747-438 this week.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 296

lol they can if they return by 2023 for additional capacity for grand final footy weekends depending on where they are flying from.what would normally need 3's 738's can be done with one a380.

Jfk
Jfk

18 Jul 2020

Total posts 2

Will

Miss these beautiful aircraft the crews were the best the CM on my flights was the nicest kind man to myself and my daughter . Will miss all the happy faces .


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