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What did I learn on a trip to the Austrian Airlines maintenance hangar?

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I am spending this week shuttling between Vienna, Brussels and Mallorca as part of an organised trip for aviation enthusiasts who want to get a closer look at the workings of an airline.

On Wednesday I got to visit the Austrian Airlines technical facility at Vienna Airport.  And a very interesting trip it was, allowing me to see a side of the industry that is usually hidden.

One thing that was impressive about British Airways, during the wave after wave of bad publicity over cost cutting in the last 18 months, was that no-one ever, ever, questioned whether BA was also cutting corners on its maintenance.  It is just accepted by everyone concerned that this is not what you do.

As a mangled version of the old saying goes: “if you think aircraft maintenance costs a lot of money, wait until you see how much it costs you when you try to make savings”.

Anyone can tour the Austrian Airlines technical facility – details are on their website here.

I need to say something about the pictures below.  Austrian did not want general photography of the facility.  I have focused on close-ups.

Welcome to the main hangar.  This is an Austrian A319:

Austrian Airlines maintenance hanger Visitair

This is an Embraer E95:

Austrian Airlines maintenance hanger Visitair

…. and they let me sit in the cockpit:

Austrian Airlines maintenance hanger Visitair

…. which is surprisingly old fashioned:

Austrian Airlines maintenance hanger Visitair

Two parts were being changed in the engine.  The automation levels are so high now that the on-board computer automatically tells the technicians on the ground when a part is not functioning as it should.  The pilot often has no idea that a part is not operating correctly and apparently is often surprised to find a technician waiting for the aircraft on arrival!

Austrian Airlines maintenance hanger Visitair

No heavy maintenance is does in Vienna.  Boeing has a facility in Beijing where the Austrian 777 and 767 fleet is sent.  Short-haul Airbus aircraft go to Manilla.  This is purely for cost savings on labour.

Aircraft which need painting are sent 80km down the road to Bratislava.  It is now illegal, due to environmental rules, to paint the aircraft in the open in Austria.  In Bratislava, it’s fine – they open the hangar doors there and all the fumes waft out …..

Let’s talk tyres:

Austrian Airlines maintenance hanger Visitair

Tyres have a ceramic interior which contains the brakes and which can reach 800 degrees celsius during landing.  The core can be re-used 7-8 times, so the outer rubber layer is peeled off when the tyres wear down.  The core is then x-rayed to ensure it is OK.  The tyres are filled with nitrogen.  For testing they are pressurised to 20x the pressure of a car tyre.  This is then lowered to 5x for storage and increased to 10x on installation.

Interestingly, the tyres are leased and not owned.  The supplier is paid per landing!

Here are some brake parts:

Austrian Airlines maintenance hanger Visitair

Vienna operates as a ‘centre of excellence’ for brakes and supplies many airlines outside the Lufthansa Group.  All of these airlines send their brakes to Vienna for servicing, and each set has a full maintenance and flying history dating back to the date of manufacture.

Austrian is able to supply a part within five hours to any of the airlines it works with.  Here are some ready to go out:

Austrian Airlines maintenance hanger Visitair

Here is $20m-worth of GE90 aircraft engine, used on a Boeing 777:

Austrian Airlines maintenance hanger Visitair

This is the “spare” kept on site in Vienna.  Austrian does not do heavy engine maintenance on site because the mix of Pratt & Whitney, GE and Rolls-Royce engines would make it too expensive to recruit enough staff.

It takes five years to fully qualify as an aero engine technician.  It only takes two years to qualify as a commercial pilot …..

And that was that.  If you are interested in this sort of thing, you can book a tour of the facility at Vienna Airport.  I’m not sure if you would get the same access that our private group did, but it is certainly interesting. It is a shame that I can’t show you more wide-angle shots because you don’t really get a feel from the pictures above for the sheer scale of the hangers.

Comments (27)

  • c says:

    Give me a “surprisingly old fashioned” cockpit over an iPad controlled one any day!

    • Alex W says:

      Modern aircraft are a lot safer than the old fashioned ones!

      Actually I’d say these pictures look positively space age, compared to other aircraft still in service with all analogue dials instead of the flat screens.

      • Stu N says:

        The 727 cockpit I sat in at Boeing was basically a room full of switches with some gaps for windows and seats. Two pilots and a flight engineer to keep the thing in the sky. Give me fly by wire any day…

  • Henry says:

    *hangar

  • Alex W says:

    I think the tyre interior containing the brakes is more commonly known called a wheel!

  • Jonathan says:

    Boeing has a facility in Beijing where the Austrian 777 and 767 fleet is sent. Short-haul Airbus aircraft go to Manilla

    I’m surprised that you have the depth technical expertise in Manila in particular (Phillipines population trends to be quite transient and with these specialist technical skills you’d have thought you could work internationally for a lot more money).

    Also that the economics still work to fly the short-haul planes to Manila (and long-haul to Beijing), rather than having say a regional maintenance hub.

    • Nick says:

      So BA shouldn’t send its A380s to MNL for C/D checks either then?

      Seriously, the facility over there is huge, and world-class. If you saw how much it costs to build a hangar, plus parts, plus skills and expertise, for the relatively small size of the OS longhaul fleet, you’d send them there too

      Oh, and it helps that the MNL facility is owned, operated, controlled and maintained by Lufthansa………

    • ADS says:

      BA a380s now go to Manila for servicing (previously it was Singapore).

  • Stu_N says:

    If you are even vaguely interested in this sort of stuff, the Boeing factory tour and Future of Flight exhibition at Everett is well worth a visit. It’s about half an hour north of Seattle. Tour shows the production lines for widebodies (they make 737s at Renton just south of Seattle). The production of 747 and 767 is running off, mostly freighters and 767 tankers for the air force now. They are firing out 777 and particularly 787 at an incredible rate. Basically giant airfix kits that then need fitted out and wired up in vast hangars that take buildings. I found it really interesting and my main interest in aircraft is getting to fun places, ideally at the pointy end of the plane.

    • Mzungu says:

      “…kits that then need fitted out…”

      Am I the only one that dislikes these Americanisms creeping in? Can’t we say “…kits that then need to be fitted out…” or “…kits that then need fitting out…”

      Just grates on me, sorry!

      • Stu N says:

        Terribly sorry, old bean! If that’s the only error in something I typed out in my phone then I am doing well.

      • Scott says:

        Glad that Harry posted that link, as the phrase you picked up on sounds perfectly fine to me. That’s how we say it in my area of Scotland – nothing to do with Americanisms.

        • Alan says:

          Indeed a lot of Americanisms are also Old English that they’ve stuck with an we’ve moved away from – Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson covers many of these very amusingly!

          • Stu N says:

            I am Scottish. Apology retracted. Get in round ye, ya bams!

          • Mzungu says:

            I love Bill Bryson’s books, I haven’t read that one, so I must put that right. Once I’ve read that, perhaps I’ll be a bit less sensitive 😉

          • Alan says:

            Haha it’s a really good one. Factual but really fun, lots of interesting bits I found I kept wanting to tell people about! Enjoy 🙂

  • John says:

    Are the planes literally sent by road to slovakia or do they, um, emit even more pollutants flying there?

    • Rob says:

      Good question. Get a feeling they fly there.

    • Callum says:

      Perhaps I’m missing a joke, but I’m pretty sure Austria aren’t worried about “general pollutants”, but whatever chemicals are in the paint.

  • @mkcol says:

    Having done the Airbus factory tour at Hamburg I can wholeheartedly recommend this sort of tour – they are fascinating.

  • Daniel says:

    Very interesting – many thanks

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