Inside North America’s only Airbus A380 hangar
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For years, Qantas had a problem with its US flights. For the sake of connecting traffic, it makes sense for flights from Australia to the US to arrive early in the day and for flights to Australia to depart at night. That meant the airline was parking numerous wide-body aircraft all day in Los Angeles, where most of its flights to the US land, and idle aircraft can be incredibly costly to an airline.
So Qantas came up with a solution: building a hangar in Los Angeles to do maintenance on aircraft, turning idle time into productive maintenance time, even half a world away from its primary maintenance base in Sydney. The facility opened in January 2017, nearly 7,500 miles away from Qantas headquarters in Sydney.
The massive hangar measures 360 feet wide, 300 foot deep and 12 stories high and was the first — and is still the only — dedicated Airbus A380 hangar in North America. Its opening was an affair befitting such a big space. Not only did the CEO of the airline and the mayor of Los Angeles show up in person, but the Australian foreign minister and trade minister also came for the occasion.
Just how big is the hangar? Obviously it can hold an A380, and can do so with the doors closed, whether the plane goes in nose first or tail first. It’s also designed so that it can shelter three Boeing 737s or similar-sized narrow-body aircraft. While Qantas doesn’t have any of those smaller aircraft flying around the US, that’s a smart design for leasing out hangar space to other airlines.
The facility is also designed so mechanics can work on more than one aircraft at a time. Qantas currently operates four flights out of Los Angeles each day: two Airbus A380s and two Boeing 787s. But Qantas staff noted that they’ve had three or even four Qantas A380s — between one-quarter and one-third of its A380 fleet — on the ground in Los Angeles at a time.
To accommodate all of these massive aircraft, the facility is designed so that the airline can park up to five A380s and easily work on up to three of these at a time. In addition to doing heavy maintenance work inside the hangar, Qantas built extendable walkways on either side of it so that workers can access the aircraft to perform interior maintenance.
The airline even designed the hangar so that storerooms for interior parts are on the same floor, from carpet to paint to new seat covers.
For the heavier maintenance done on the hangar floor, Qantas has a massive and very well organized supply room of parts, tools and supplies.
While the primary purpose of the hangar is to perform lighter maintenance between flights, it can handle any A380 maintenance needs. That includes lifting the A380 fuselage up to 32 feet off of the ground in order to remove the landing gear in case a major repair is required.
But it’s much more common to just need to replace a wheel, and there’s plenty of those stocked in the hangar:
After all, the A380 has quite a few wheels that could need replacing.
During my tour of the facility this week, Qantas didn’t have an aircraft in the hangar. That let us see the entire structure built to give maintenance workers easy access to any part of the nearly 80-foot tall A380 tail.
However, there were two A380 parked on the ground at the facility, with one of those next to the extendable walkway on one side of the hangar.
On the other side of the hangar was Qantas’ last Rolls Royce-powered Boeing 747-400. I’d just flown in from Sydney the day before on this aircraft’s last revenue flight for Qantas. While I was there, it was being prepared to be flown up to Moses Lake and sold to Rolls Royce the next day.
While we were mostly focusing on the hangar for this tour, we couldn’t help but spend some time admiring the beauty of the Queen of the Skies from an angle most don’t get a chance to.
Among the fascinating aspects pointed out by Qantas maintenance directors were the under-wing mounts for a “spare engine.”
That’s right, the Boeing 747 can fly with five engines, and Qantas used this ability in the past. In January 2016, a Qantas Boeing 747 had an engine failure upon arrival into Johannesburg and required a replacement engine. So, it ferried in an engine from Sydney by attaching it under the wing of another Boeing 747.
No U.S. airlines fly the A380, but several of the Airbus giants fly into LAX every day, like the five seen below, so I asked if Qantas works with any other A380 operators.
While Qantas says that it’s happy to lend a hand when they can, the airline’s operation clearly has to come first.
A big thank you to LAX Intermediate Maintenance’s Scott Wilson and Tim Heywood for taking time out from their day to show me around the LAX hangar.
All photos by the author except where indicated.
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