Maintenance vital, not age of aircraft

DUBAI — Amidst a growing global concern over the safety of aging airplanes, an official from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) clarified on Tuesday that the airworthiness of an aircraft depends more on how well it has been maintained than on its actual age.

By Criselda E. Diala

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Published: Thu 8 Mar 2007, 8:33 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:54 AM

Speaking from the ICAO Headquarters in Montreal, Canada, Denis Chagnon of the External Relations and Public Information Office, told Khaleej Times that aging aircraft can be considered fit to fly when subjected to the proper maintenance and inspection programme.

“Technically, the age of an aircraft is not determined by the number of years since it was manufactured but by the number of cycles (that is, the takes off and landings) that it has made. There are planes that are already more than 30 years old like the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 but are still considered airworthy. The most important point that should be highlighted is how aircraft have been maintained,” he explained.

Chagnon said that if an airplane is well-maintained, it can last for even 60 years depending on its model. “Obviously, it is easier to maintain a new aircraft compared with an old one, which would require more work and expense. Aircraft manufacturers develop a maintenance programme for each aircraft type. That programme is certified by the country that orders the aircraft,” he added.

PIA fleet

Commenting on recent reports which noted the European Union (EU) countries’ move to ban most of Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) fleet into their airspace, Chagnon explained that as per the charter established during the Convention on International Civil Aviation (also known as Chicago Convention) in 1944, every state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory.

“Each country can have their own policies although most of them do base their standards on ICAO’s. They have the right to accept or reject any aircraft from flying into their airspace,” he explained.

The ICAO representative also mentioned that the challenge facing older aircraft would be the fact that it is not equipped with modern technologies such as the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) that alerts pilots if their aircraft is in immediate danger of flying into the ground, or the Performance-based Navigation/Required Navigation Performance (PBN-RNP) that is used in implementing routes and flight paths.

The organisation has required all aircraft (new and old) to be installed with a technology called Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) that helps pilot detect the presence of other aircraft within the same air zone.

“New technologies like the ACAS system can be retrofitted into older aircraft to enhance safety features,” Chagnon added.

Sami Lahoud, Boeing’s Corporate Communications Director, Middle East and Africa, said their company actively participates in the industry aging airplane programme that ensures continued airworthiness of older planes.

Lahoud emphasised that “Boeing airplanes can be flown past their initial design service objectives if they are properly inspected, maintained and modified per Boeing specific instructions in accordance with the industry’s Aging Aircraft Programme.”

Unlike its counterpart, Airbus does not get directly involved with Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) service for old aircraft, according to an official from Airbus Middle East.

“However, we do have a network of 15 MRO providers across the world that are accredited to work on Airbus aircrafts. In the UAE, Airbus’ has accredited the Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company (GAMCO),” the official said.


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