Tulsa, Oklahoma (CNN) – Roger Steele’s mission is to prepare an airplane for your summer vacation.
Steele, assistant manager at American Airlines’ largest maintenance base, leads a team of mechanics who unpack, inspect, clean and overhaul jets that the airline has been storing for the most part over the past year.
With so few travelers, the airline just didn’t need that many planes. American has removed entire models from its fleet – it will no longer fly the Boeing 757 and 767, the Embraer E190 and the Airbus A330-300. Among other things, some planes were selected to keep flying and those that weren’t needed – including 300 of the 737 workhorses – temporarily stored until economic and coronavirus conditions improved.
This is how the outside ramps work – maintenance at American’s Tulsa, Oklahoma There were around 70 aircraft in the facility. The employees covered the engines with tarpaulin, wrapped sensitive parts such as airspeed sensors that could be damaged by the elements, and placed protective film in the windows.
At least once every 10 days there was a maintenance appointment for each individual aircraft: check the engines, check the landing gear, turn the tires to avoid flat spots.
“In many ways … we actually have more maintenance requirements on the aircraft that has been stored or is in storage than when the aircraft is actively flying,” Steele told CNN.
Ed Sangricco, the facility’s executive director, said the airline was running out of space and was using nearby areas of Tulsa Airport to store the extra jets.
“They were parked on taxiways,” said Sangricco. “Everywhere we could find a place we had airplanes.”
In the case of aircraft in hibernation, the engines were covered while idling.
But in the last few weeks demand has increased in the US with spring break, Easter and Passover trips. Vacationers booked flights for the summer. And it saw a need for these idle planes.
Every day an airplane is parked, the American loses about $ 50,000 in potential revenue, Steele said. This figure does not include the man hours for maintenance work.
So American meticulously began putting the aircraft back into service and plans to bring all of the remaining fleet back into service in the air by the end of this month.
Americans are not alone in rebuilding their businesses. Southwest Airlines said Thursday that all flight attendants will have to be back at work this summer, recalling the 2,700 who are voluntarily absent. Following the crew members’ temporary vacation, United is hiring again and offering 300 new pilot jobs. And Delta is bringing back about 400 of its pilots.
Be clear U.S. air travel has only recovered to about 60% of its pre-pandemic level.
But the average day is now more than ten times busier than it was this time last year, when the U.S. Transportation Safety Agency examined fewer than 100,000 people a day nationwide. Screening used to take between 2 and 2.5 million days. US aviation industry data shows that more flights are full: on average, 75% of seats are occupied, up from 60% a month ago.
Getting an aircraft back into operation takes around 1,000 hours of work.
At American, restoring a single aircraft takes approximately 1,000 man hours. Sangricco called it an “incredibly daunting task” to “wake these planes out of hibernation”.
“The guys check the engine and all the engine systems to make sure it’s working,” Steele explained when a team was working nearby on a 737 in a hangar that holds four jets at the same time. “We’ll change the oils, check all the fluids.”
Flashlights flickered through the aircraft’s windows. The workers inside removed the interior trim and replaced the carpeting – part of a cosmetic overhaul of the passenger cabin, while the mechanics checked each of the major flight systems. That in addition Due to renovation work, the aircraft will remain in the hangar for around 20 days.
Across the hangar, a mechanic flicked switches and pressed buttons in a cockpit to test computers and alarms. Another mechanic lubricated the landing gear with a pump.
Every single part has an inspection, said Steele. “Even coffee machines on an airplane have a maintenance manual and mandatory test before the plane can fly again,” he said.
As a final step, American pilots put the plane in the air to check that all systems are working before passengers board.
“I want to do this maintenance validation flight to make sure the pressurization systems, navigation, and communications are working,” said Larry Toering, a 737 and 777 captain for American.
Critical inspection points include the fifth stage engine vent check valve on some Boeing 737s. The FAA warned last summer that corrosion of this part while the aircraft is in storage could result in “twin engine power loss without restarting” – a critical problem if it happens in flight.
Sangricco said travelers shouldn’t worry about this part failing on their next flight.
“Any things that could have been negatively affected by the fact that it was parked have been identified, addressed and resolved,” he said. “I can give you 110% assurance that these planes are safe and ready to fly.”
At the Tulsa maintenance base, staff said they were proud to be able to get back into service the planes they cared for for months.
“Every time you watch an airplane that you’ve taken care of, worked on here, off the ground and the equipment goes up and then takes off, it’s just a wonderful feeling,” Sangricco said.
The planes will return for regular maintenance, but Sangricco said he hoped none would return to the park.
“We hope never to be in the storage business again.”