Engine maintenance can be a tricky business, especially in extreme weather conditions. Jet engines, while robust on the outside, need to be in a location that is dry and temperate before the body can be cracked open and worked upon. Ideally, the needed maintenance would be performed in a temperature controlled hanger, but available hangar space is often at a premium, especially at busier airports.
Significant delays will accrue by forcing the plane to wait on the apron for an available slot before the desperately needed maintenance can start. When the plane does find its way into a hanger, the airline may find itself saddled with additional fees for the right to use that precious hanger space. Recognizing these problems, Airbus has decided that rather than bringing the plane to the hanger, it might be smarter to bring the hanger to the plane.
Enter the inflatable tent for engine maintenance. Able to be deployed in most weather conditions, the tent is the result of three months of joint labor by Airbus GSE & Tools and J.B.Roche (Manufacturing) Ltd. Intended to be set up directly on the airport’s apron (the tarmac immediately around the airport terminal), it is placed beneath the wing and then inflated, which causes the tent to quickly envelop the damaged engine.
Deployable in a breakneck 5 minutes by a crew of four, the tent’s HVAC system is capable of maintaining a comfortable internal temperature at conditions all the way down to an arctic -40oC. With the full package weighing in at 162 kg and taking up a volume of a little over 1.5m3, storage is trivial when compared to storing an entire airplane hanger. The size of the tent is sufficiently small that it can even be stored on the plane itself.
While the tent shows strong promise in reducing delays for commercial airports and airlines, it is only able to withstand a wind speed of 30 knots (34 mph). This means that the tent would be inoperable in even a weak tropical storm, and would have to be reserved for the sorts of extreme weather that don’t involve high winds.
Still, the Airbus GSE & Tools department appears optimistic, as they are reported to be currently investigating if the same technology can be employed around landing gear, fuselage, and aircraft doors. It is possible that future iterations of the tent will be more wind resistant, in which case airplane maintenance on the apron would become an all-weather sport.