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#AskTheExpert with Roland Rainer, Head of Maintenance Planning & Control

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Roland leads the Maintenance Planning & Control department. He and his team are responsible for ensuring that all maintenance work on the entire SWISS fleet is properly planned and performed, and that the aircraft are ready in good time for their deployment in the air. The current situation has changed the entire planning of maintenance work and checks from one day to the next. All of a sudden the department was confronted with questions such as: “Which aircraft do we need for which destinations?”, “Where do we park aircraft that we do not currently need?” and “When do the aircraft have to be ready for operation again? Answering these questions and finding solutions to them requires an enormous amount of clarification, planning, coordination with many departments and above all remain calm. Particularly because the situation has been changing almost daily. Now it is a matter of making the fleet available for the gradual ramp-up of the original flight operation.

In what ways has aircraft maintenance been affected by Covid-19?

The lockdown has likely plunged the entire aviation industry into the biggest crisis of all times. Clearly, the restrictions and limitations associated with it have also had a major impact on the aircraft maintenance sector. You have to imagine that we were forced to put our entire fleet on the ground very quickly and were then faced with questions such as “Where can we park so many planes?”, “What maintenance measures would be necessary?”, “Do we have the material for a complete shutdown and how do we adjust our maintenance plans, which have already been fixed for a long time?”.

Which aircraft generally requires most maintenance?

This question cannot be answered in general terms, because many different factors influence the amount of maintenance required for an aircraft. For example, age and environmental influences play a role, but also whether the aircraft is used on short- or long-haul flights.

How long does it take to perform full maintenance on a Boeing 777?

The most significant maintenance event on a Boeing 777 is a so-called D-check, which takes place every 12 years. The check takes four to six weeks and requires between 30,000 and 50,000 working hours, depending on its scope.   

How do you ensure that an aircraft is in good condition after being on the ground for several weeks?

In this case, airworthiness is actually the key requirement. This means that maintenance is still necessary and required for all aircraft taken out of regular flight operations in order to ensure that the aircraft can return to regular flight operations after a period of standstill. However, before the aircraft is released for passenger flights again, a so-called Return to Service Check is always necessary, only then we allow the aircraft to return to regular operations.

How are engines protected while an aircraft is parked?

To protect an aircraft against all kinds of external influences during parking, there are special covers, which seal all openings on the engine.

How long does it take for an aircraft in standby to be ready to fly again?

Depending on the duration of a standstill – here we differentiate between the status parking and status storage – different maintenance measures will be necessary. While short-term reactivation is possible during parking, the reactivation of an aircraft in storage, which is actually designed for longer-term decommissioning, is considerably more complex. If, for example, an Airbus A320 is in parking status, we can normally reactivate the aircraft within 24 to 48 hours, depending on the work required, which is specified in the maintenance program.

With the airplanes on the ground, must the fuel be drained?

No, on the contrary. The planes are refuelled to make them heavier and thus secure them from storms. An Airbus A320, for example, is refuelled with at least 13 tons of kerosene in order to maintain a firm hold on the ground even in winds of up to 50 knots.

How often are the HEPA filters replaced on aircraft?

The entire fleet of SWISS is equipped with HEPA filters (HEPA = High Efficiency Particulate Air filter). These filters are changed every 5000 to 7500 flight hours, depending on the aircraft type.

Some airlines decided to retire certain airplanes. Is SWISS considering to do the same?

SWISS operates a very young fleet, I would like to mention in particular the Airbus A220 and the Boeing 777, but of course, we are also considering these options. Our long-term fleet planning allows us to identify potential candidates for an early phase-out or retirement. The current situation requires us to consider our network planning in order to be able to determine when early retirement might make sense at all.

What do you currently consider to be the biggest challenge?

I would say to be extremely flexible and to react quickly, as circumstances are constantly changing. It is also important to be able to recognize connections and dependencies quickly and to be able to estimate them. These are probably the biggest challenges of this time.