In light of continued social restrictions, comparatively slow vaccination roll outs and the ongoing impact of the Delta variant, the Asian aviation sector has been one of the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yet, whilst air traffic remains sluggish in the region, news in recent weeks including Singapore Airlines announcing that it is opening up international travel routes — whilst countries such as Thailand are opening their doors to vaccinated UK travellers – would suggest that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel, well at least for international travel.
As airports and airlines in the region turn their attentions towards restoring normal operations, they face some novel challenges. From staffing and training, to transitioning an unprecedented number of aircraft from storage facilities to the runway, there are new risks that will need to be managed.
In normal times, aircraft might be out of service for a few days at most. Now we have had a significant period of an inactivity for machines that are used to being operated and cycled through the routine of flying with systems operating, components warming up, keeping dry and almost naturally keeping themselves functional.
When it comes to aircraft preservation and storage, there are very clear instructions in the aircraft maintenance manuals about how these assets are put into storage to protect them, however ground handling of aircraft, in any shape or form, comes with an element of risk. Aircraft are large and tricky to maneuver on the ground.
Over the course of any regular year, we would expect to see almost every single part of aircraft perimeter components being impacted at some stage, and it goes to reason that we’ll see an increase in these kinds of losses. There were a number of collision incidents in the initial parking phase and, across our global network, we are now seeing ground collision incidents as aircraft are moved in preparation for reuse.
The wider issue of skills fade is something that has garnered much discussion within the industry. Maneuvering aircraft requires knowledge, understanding and, crucially, practice. The scale of aircraft returns to service has never been undertaken on this level and a number of new staff and limited hands-on-practice opportunities in many areas could spring a few surprises.
The limited availability of simulators and training opportunities also poses a significant challenge, and it will be interesting to see what the authorities consider to be acceptable levels of task frequency. That said, all indications are that the aviation community in the region is rising to this challenge. The strict regulations that govern aviation will no doubt ensure that this industry is better placed than others. There are numerous documents published on this subject, so it is clearly under review and once again the history of strict regulation and law in aviation will ensure the industry is doing all that it can.
From a maintenance and a safety perspective, returning a complex machine back into a serviceable condition is a meticulous process. Aircraft have to be carefully restarted and tested before they can be returned to service, yet whilst there has been much attention paid to potential issues relating to the impact of storage and disuse on equipment, some of the anomalies we will see going forward will not have been fully predictable.
Thorough testing of the aircraft systems prior to use is the norm and should alleviate these issues, whilst quality insurance and claims management will have a key role to play in helping the industry manage these potential risks.
This article is written by Andy Pickford, Asia regional director at McLarens Aviation. Pickford is based in Singapore.
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