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Logistics and compliance challenge airlines during pandemic

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As aviation operations enter a new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic, industry experts are addressing the challenge of obtaining the parts and certifications required to return parked aircraft to revenue service.

When aircraft are parked for months at a time, they may encounter issues with avionics, deterioration of seals leading to leaks, or similar problems that require both replacement parts and potentially re-inspection and recertification, said Tronos Aviation managing officer Gary Weissel during a recent Independent Aircraft Modifier Alliance (IAMA) webinar.

“One of the biggest problems we’re still having is manpower, so you know these facilities are very busy. There’s still incoming aircraft, and there are a lot of outgoing aircraft. That has caused delays,” he said, “just trying to get inspections completed, trying to get registrations changed, trying to get certificates of airworthiness processed.”  Many regulatory authorities are working remotely.

Weissel said some certification turns that would have previously been accomplished in 24 hours may now take days — in one case he mentioned 15 days to complete. “There’s a lot of frustration, I think, for those that do this on a regular basis, with the slowness.”

Another challenge is getting the parts needed to complete necessary repairs to avionics and seals when the parts suppliers are not local. Weissel explained that the logistics of obtaining parts has been complicated by reduced transport capacity as a result of reduced flight frequencies, or reduced ferry services and similar reductions.

“One of the airplanes we had to move was out of Ireland. It was five or six parts that need to be changed, and even trying to get stuff shipped over from the UK— in normal times you could do it in 12 hours [and now] was taking 48 hours at a minimum.”

Airlines and their suppliers will need to factor in this extra time in their decision-making as they plan to reintroduce aircraft.

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Another challenge of developing ‘new normal’ operations is passenger perception of flight safety, as well as passenger willingness to comply with new hygiene and safety measures.

IATA shared the results of its recent surveys, which identified the top concerns from passengers on board aircraft include: sitting next to someone (65%), using the lavatories (42%), and breathing the air on the plane (37%). Passengers also shared their willingness to take an active role in keeping flying safe with some 38% willing to sanitize their seating area themselves.

Dealing with passengers who refuse to wear masks on board is proving to be a problem, particularly for US carriers. Airlines are tackling the issue in a variety of ways, with some opting to strengthen their policies so that even those claiming disability – and citing the Americans with Disabilities Act as the reason for not wearing a mask – must still wear a mask on board.

“The ADA does not provide a blanket exemption to people with disabilities from complying with legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operations,” said the US Department of Justice in a June 2020 statement.

Alaska Airlines has borrowed an idea from soccer and begun issuing yellow cards to non-compliant customers. “If a customer flat out refuses, they get the yellow card at some point, which says their future travel might be banned,” said manager, onboard experience Matthew Coder.

The lack of clear federal guidelines on this matter increases the likelihood of passenger resistance to airline requirements.

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