The airline with the world’s largest fleet is preparing to resume flying after the COVID-19 travel slump. It takes 1,000 hours of work to prepare each plane.
Airlines around the world were forced to find storage properties for their empty planes when air travel plunged due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a complex effort, not only because an airliner needs a lot of space, but also because a machine costing over $375 million (the list price of a Boeing 777) needs constant care while it’s parked on the ground.
For Ed Sangricco, managing director of American Airlines’ aircraft maintenance base in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it all resulted in a busy year. During the travel slump, he took care of 70 unused airplanes, checking their parts and interiors on a regular basis to keep them in shape so they would be able to fly again when the time came.
“Our primary business is not managing aircraft, it’s flying aircraft,” Sangricco says of the world’s largest airline, with a fleet of 851 planes. “It was a real culture shock when we had to start maintaining them.”
After the rapid rollout of vaccines in the US and lifting most lockdown measures, air travel has surged again. The number of domestic flights for the week beginning April 11 was 138,541, which was more than double the number of flights for the same period in 2020. However, it is still significantly low in comparison to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ baseline number of 181,484 flights in mid-April, which is welcome news for airlines like American and United that are rushing to make their aircraft passenger-ready again.
This is not a time for rest for Sangricco. Just storing planes is a full-time job, so is putting them back into the air — as much as 1,000 hours work for one plane.
But no matter when an aircraft returns, Sangricco has a goal in mind. Between an updated interior and a freshly washed and polished exterior, he wants passengers to be impressed without knowing it was parked for months.
“As a passenger, you would not know if it was just returned to service,” he said.
“We really don’t want them to have a musty smell … I like to think that whenever the public gets on the aircraft, they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”