|Qantas shared that their engineers will be busy tending to these hibernating planes for a while. / Photo by Pradpriew via Shutterstock|
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the aviation industry has been dramatic, with plenty of airports all over the world having zero or near-zero passengers traveling. In many cases, the workforce is redirected to help implement preventive measures, such as health screenings, temperature checks, and improved sanitation efforts.
Plane “hibernation” process
As airlines have drastically reduced their schedules, resorting to cargo-only flights, many planes are grounded until air travel is resumed. But it does not just mean parking the plane in airports and walking away. There’s still a lot of work involved before putting the plane into a long sleep. Qantas Airways Limited, the flag carrier of Australia and the largest airline by fleet size, has shared a YouTube video of how the plane hibernation process is done.
Qantas’ head of maintenance John Walker said before the plane is stored for an extended period, it should be thoroughly cleaned inside and out. He likens it to “giving it a bath before bed.” Also, even after the plane is already hibernating, regular work is still required so that the airplane will be in a maintainable condition the moment it is used again.
When a plane is not moving for long periods, the holes and gaps in the fuselage, including the static sensors and the pitot, may become a nesting spot for birds and insects. This is why the spaces have to be plugged to prevent the unwanted “passengers” from staying while the plane is hibernating. Hydraulic fluid is applied to the landing gear so that it will be protected from rust.
Keeping the plane in a maintainable condition
To also keep the plane in a maintainable condition, the wheels have to be rotated every seven to 14 days to avoid “flat spots” or when the tires become deformed. The work requires towing the plane in the tarmac or utilizing a jack to lift the plane with enough space to spin the wheels and then putting it down again.
Considering that the work has to be done in a fleet, it’s a bit of work to make sure that they remain in tip-top shape once flying is resumed.
John also shared via the Australian news platform News.com.au that they have to cover the windscreen of the planes in silver foil so that the sunlight will be out of the cockpit. Qantas shared that their engineers will be busy tending to these hibernating planes for a while.
Domestic aviation activity in Australia
According to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications of the Australian Government, the domestic commercial aviation industry carried 4.60 million passengers in February this year. The number includes charter operations. Compared to the same period last year, there has been a decline of 2.2% in the number of passengers who traveled domestically.
A total of 4.36 million passengers were transported through regular public transport (RPT) flights. The busiest RPT route in February was still Melbourne to Sydney, which carried 691.9 thousand passengers, a decline of 7.0% compared to February last year.
The busiest domestic airport in the country is Sydney with 1.99 million passenger movements. The second busiest domestic airports are Melbourne (1.87 million passenger movements), followed by Brisbane (1.22 million).
|As for international airline activity, 64 international airlines operated their scheduled services to and from Australia. / Photo by Peter Gudella via Shutterstock|
International airline activity
As for international airline activity, 64 international airlines operated their scheduled services to and from Australia. In January 2020, the international scheduled passenger traffic was 4.154 million, an increase of 2.0% from 4.073 million in January 2019.
However, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declared a human biosecurity emergency in March. It required all citizens of Australia to abandon overseas travel because of the pandemic and warned that it could last for at least six months.
Such a formal declaration has allowed the government to close off regions and cities and impose curfews to lessen the spread of the virus. In a press conference, Morrison said: "Life is changing in Australia, as it is changing all around the world."
The Qantas network
The Qantas network, the combined operations of Qantas and regional airline Qantas Link, achieved 86.1% on-time arrivals. It also has the highest on-time arrivals compared to other major domestic airlines. Virgin Australia, for instance, recorded 83.0% for on-time arrivals, Regional Express at 84.3%, and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines at 79.9%. Qantas has 12.9% cancellations in March 2020, among the lowest percentage cancellations compared. Jetstar recorded 26.8% cancellations.
Australia on the road to recovery with Covid-19 infections
As of April 26, real-time world statistics platform Worldometer shared that Australia has 6,711 coronavirus cases, 83 deaths, and 5,539 recovered. It is one of the countries that is leading the world in fighting the pandemic with stringent quarantine, border controls, and testing. Aside from having a strong existing public health system, Australia was early to issue border closures, ignoring the World Health Organization's early insistence that there was no need to restrict travel to and from China.
In March, Australia also banned all non-emergency surgeries to free up hospital beds. It only eased elective surgery restrictions when authorities already secured more medical equipment and protective gears, including the “full capacity” 7,500 ventilators
University of Melbourne’s epidemiologist and public health medicine specialist Professor Tony Blakely shared via Daily Mail UK that the country has done “remarkably well”. “We’ve actually managed to get the caseload down enormously. Very impressive.”
However, relaxing rules too early also presents a danger, such as the case of Singapore. The city-state became the envy of the world for mitigating the spread of the virus but experts fear a second wave. The rise in new infections led the government to restrict people’s movement further. Dormitories for foreign laborers became the new center of Singapore’s outbreak. As of April 14, out of the 3,252 Covid-19 cases in the country, 1,625 were linked to migrant workers’ dorms. Nevertheless, comparing countries is not always effective because they have differences in development, size, demographics, and governance.
The Covid-19 battle is not yet over for Australia but it is coming. On the part of companies in the aviation industry, they are doing everything they can so that they will be ready when the time is right.