From the moment an aircraft lands on the airport runway, there is little time for rest before it must embark on another long journey. With usually only a few hours in between flights, crew members and ground support technicians must offload passengers and cargo, clean the aircraft, and prepare it for its next flight. Known as the aircraft turnaround process, here’s the ins and outs of everything that goes on after aircraft touchdown.
Before an aircraft descends into an airport, ground staff are already preparing for its arrival. The parking stand has been issued by the airport and is cleared of any debris that may cause damage to the aircraft. Furthermore, all the required ground equipment is parked clear of the aircraft maneuvering area. Once the stand is clear, the parking guidance is turned on. Using laser-guided systems to align the aircraft, pilots can steer the aircraft with enhanced accuracy.
As the aircraft settles into the right position, the guidance system counts down the distance until it reaches the stop point. Then, the parking brake must be set, one must ensure that the APU is still running, and the doors should all be set to manual before shutting the engines down. Outside, the ground staff will await the sound of the engines winding down and the front engine fan slowing down.
Before approaching the aircraft, the ground crew will look for the beacon. The beacon is a red flashing light on top of and below the aircraft that, when switched on, signals ground staff that it is not safe to approach the aircraft. As soon as the beacon is switched off, the ground crew can begin carrying out their duties, the first of which includes chocking the aircraft. Chocking consists of placing large rubber or wooden wedges around the aircraft wheels to ensure that they do not move.
When the engines are shut down, the aircraft utilizes the APU for power. Located in the smaller engine in the tail, if the APU is not working, the aircraft must be connected to ground power before shutting the engines down. This may take a little time as this requires the ground staff to approach the aircraft with the ground power connection while the engines are still running. In these situations, ground crews must be cautious and carry out their tasks methodically to promote safety.
Once the aircraft is properly chocked and the engines are completely shut down, the air bridge can be moved toward the aircraft door, allowing passengers to exit the aircraft. When designing an aircraft, manufacturers focus a lot of time on how it will be serviced whilst on the ground. As such, they plan out vital access points, including boarding doors, cargo doors, and water filling points.
Generally, passenger boarding/disembarking and refueling takes place on the left side, while all other ground services, such as catering and baggage and cargo loading are done on the right side. This arrangement allows various servicing jobs to be carried out simultaneously. It is important to note that baggage and cargo are carefully unloaded to ensure the aircraft is balanced, or “in trim.” Depending on the load, ground crews may unload some items from one hold before they start on the other, ensuring that the aircraft does not fall on its tail.
In terms of toilet servicing, the waste tank in the back of the aircraft is emptied by a specialist operative and a vehicle. As the last passenger exits the aircraft, a crew of cleaners and caterers swarm the cabin. Based on the needs of the cabin, bins are emptied, toilets are cleaned, trash is picked up, blankets are collected, and pillow cases are changed, among other things. At the same time, catering trucks arrive on the right side of the aircraft to load food and beverage items.
At this point, the pilots and cabin crew have conducted their preflight briefing. A small truck containing potable water connects to the underbelly of the aircraft at the rear and pumps water into the aircraft. Next, baggage and cargo are loaded onto the aircraft, which is carefully calculated by the airline’s planning department. Before takeoff, engineers look over the aircraft thoroughly wherein engine levels are checked and minor details are dealt with.
About an hour before departure, the crew will check their safety and emergency equipment and confirm that nothing has been left behind from the previous flight. In the galleys, meals are counted and catering supplies are checked. As soon as all of this is done, passengers can begin boarding the aircraft. Meanwhile, the pilots perform checks, load the route into the Flight Management Computers, the predicted winds are downloaded, and a departure briefing is conducted.
Lastly, the hold doors are closed, the pilots start the APU to provide the aircraft with its own electricity, and the ground power is disconnected. The pushback tug positions itself in front of the aircraft, clamps onto the nose wheel, and enables the aircraft to push itself from the gate. The passenger boarding door is finally closed and the air bridge is removed. Now, we are ready for take off.
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