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Jet Airways crisis: Airline's grounded fleet risks losing landing slots, airworthiness if a solution doesn't come about soon

Even as former Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal yo-yos in and out of the multiple deals being chiseled to save the airline from bankruptcy, one major factor is being overlooked in the financials that the ‘rescuers’ are poring over be they the banks or outside entities.

Aircraft are usually grounded when there is an intrinsic defect suspected in a certain type of aircraft and that is then initiated for obvious safety reasons. The Boeing 380 battery issue and the 737 Max safety issue over take off stalls after the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes are cases in point.

Other reasons for grounding are bankruptcy and we have had several carriers go under the latest being Wow airline from Iceland and Jet Airways from India. Not that they are the only ones. The list is long and includes carriers like Delta, Primera, Kingfisher, Eastern, Monarch and Swiss Global to name a few of the over 100 carriers that went bust in the past five years not to mention the ten Indian carriers that collapsed between 2007 and now.

 Jet Airways crisis: Airlines grounded fleet risks losing landing slots, airworthiness if a solution doesnt come about soon

Representational image. Reuters

In these cases, the aircraft fleet is usually sold off to pay debts. But with every passing day of the fleet being grounded, the base cost of getting those planes back to airworthiness rises.

Jet Airways’ 124 aircraft fleet is largely parked outside in the open exposed to the elements. Clearly, what is known as electrical maintenance is not being carried out. The planes are susceptible to heat, dust, wind, humidity and rust.

According to Boeing itself, deterioration of the airplane structure, surface finish, airplane systems, and components can occur if preservation procedures to protect the airplane are not followed. If exposed to the outside environment, an airplane can be damaged by heat, humidity, cold, ice, snow, rain, lightning, hail, wind, sandstorms, and insects.

In India, there is also the added risk of snakes and rats entering the confines of an aircraft and causing damage.

The Boeing instruction manual says that the airplane must also be protected from damage or debris contamination of pitot probes, static ports, total air temperature probes and angle-of-attack sensors. External openings on the airplane such as the outflow valve, relief valves, vents, ports, and openings must be closed and sealed against environmental effects.

And it does not stop here.

Because of airplane system inactivity and the lack of regular maintenance checks during parking, the following may also occur: component mechanisms may lose lubrication, batteries may discharge, contamination of potable water systems or fuel tanks may occur, and some systems or components (such as oxygen cylinders, tires, hydraulic systems, and landing gear shock struts) may lose pressure.

Although the airplane is inactive during parking, it is important to maintain the engine, auxiliary power unit, and cargo fire extinguishing systems and all portable fire extinguishers in fully serviceable condition in case of a fire. The airplane must be electrostatically grounded while it is parked.

Even if these protective measures are carried out, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to get an aircraft into the air. With summer upon us, the exposure to temperatures in Delhi and Mumbai in the mid-forties, the internal heat in the cabins would be heightened exponentially.

The question of parking fees for 120 aircraft cannot also be wished away but most vitally, Jet Airways could lose its landing slots at international airports. These are highly prized and in trade offs, millions of dollars are spent when carriers buy from each other.

An airline can technically lose its slots if it does not use 80 percent of its allocation over 180-day period. In fact, many carriers that go under often fly ghost flights (no passengers) just to retain their rights and sell them when applicable for a stronger final bottom line. Jet Airways would be well-advised to consider such flights to its 20 international routes especially its milk and honey GCC rights and to Europe and the UK.

These are not particularly hidden costs, but since they seldom get spoken about their impact on the ultimate solution is massive. Officially, a standard airworthiness certificate remains valid as long as the aircraft meets its approved type design, is in a condition for safe operation and maintenance, preventative maintenance, and alterations are performed in accordance with the rules.

The grounded planes include A330s, Boeing 737s, the 737 Max, brand new ATR 72s and Triple sevens. They are all currently white elephants sitting on the ground…soaking up the sun.

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Updated Date: Apr 18, 2019 13:13:15 IST