How does Air France maintain its planes during the lockdown?

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The global Covid-19 pandemic sparked the largest global repatriation operation in history. Hundreds of thousands of travelers wished to return home as quickly as possible. An extraordinary operational challenge to deal with numerous borders and airspace closings. Air France has repatriated more than 270,000 passengers, including 150,000 French nationals. Thanks to Air France and Transavia, they have operated more than 1,800 flights from 132 airports in 82 countries since March 14, 2020. In a catastrophic economic context for the industry and where most of the planes had to leave Paris empty, Air France and Transavia have set capped rates for stranded passengers.

Air France currently operates a minimum flight schedule called the “Skeleton program” – to maintain French territorial continuity towards the major French cities such as Marseille, Nice and Toulouse and the overseas departments and territories Cayenne, Fort-de- France, Pointe-à-Pitre, Saint-Denis de La Réunion. Flights represent only 5% of the capacity usually available. Out of a total of about 220 planes, 180 are stationed at Roissy Charles de Gaulle, Orly and Toulouse and some forty planes continue to fly. Freight flights are operated between China and France mainly for the transport of masks and medical equipment. Seven flights a week are made on Boeing 777 cargo and Boeing 777 aircraft that are normally used for passenger transportation; on board, the equipment is transported in the hold and in the cabin.

An airplane on the ground definitely needs high maintenance, of course based on the recommendations of each Boeing and Airbus manufacturer. Aircraft storage needs to be extremely taken care of. Three types of storage are normally used: parking storage (two to four weeks), active storage (one to three months) and long-term storage (more than three months).

Gery Mortreux, The Deputy CEO of Air France Industries told me that with the evolution of the crisis, the various decisions taken by the French government which involved stopping 95% of the airline’s flights in mid-March, Air France decided to strategically organize active storage . This type of storage requires approximately 150 hours of maintenance and mechanical work. On long and medium-haul flights, precise maintenance prevents problems caused by inactivity. The work on the plane is to carefully check the electrical and hydraulic circuits and the air conditioning. In addition, to protect the aircraft from moisture and corrosion, dehumidifiers are placed in the cabins. All openings are plugged with covers to prevent insect and bird nests. A minimum of fuel is put in the tank to restart the engines once a week and the undercarriage is raised to turn the wheels. At the end of the lockdown, the plane can leave very quickly after a pre-flight visit that lasts a few hours to a few days.

Gery Mortreux pointed out to me that the company is currently focusing on aircraft maintenance. “The storage and protection of aircraft must be perfect to guarantee the best security when Air France is again fully operational.” At Air France, everything was so awaited. The 40 aircraft in operation allow a certain flexibility which will certainly help to respond quickly in terms of an increase in the flight schedule when the future becomes clearer.

It is still very difficult to know and anticipate what the summer flight schedule will look like, but hopefully for the time being we can get back in the air soon. Note that in addition to the Covid-19 health crisis measures implemented by the company, from May 11, 2020, you must wear a mask on all Air France flights.

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