FRANKFURT — Everything about the Airbus A380 is massive — from the wings to the fuselage, to the tail to the landing gear. That’s why this extra-large aircraft needs an extra-large maintenance space. And that’s exactly what Lufthansa built and uses on the premises of Frankfurt am Main International Airport.
As we go through airport-style security in order to even approach the hangar, Lufthansa Technik’s Dean Raineri explained that the airline opted to make the lounge an airside facility to avoid having to security-check the aircraft after maintenance. It’s easier, it seems, to check everyone going into the facility instead.
On the cloudy August morning we visit only one A380, D-AIMN, which is in for service. “In this summer period we have high utilization of all our fleet, so lots of airplanes flying, very few on the ground. That’s why you see only one A380 right now,” Raineri says. Airplanes on the ground, naturally, don’t make any money. This A380, named San Francisco, is Lufthansa’s newest, was delivered to the airline in March, and now contains the latest business class seats — the fully flat beds in a calming grey that are gradually replacing the angled flat seats in a now rather dated blue across Lufthansa’s long-haul fleet — as well as new premium economy seats.
Even this enormous aircraft is dwarfed by the hangar. As we explore, my Apple Watch keeps congratulating me on achieving various movement goals as Lufthansa Technik staffers zip by on bicycles. Who needs a gym when you have a 180m x 140m (nearly 600 feet by over 450 feet) hangar to powerwalk around?
“The clear height inside the hangar is 27 and a half meters to accommodate the tail of the A380, which is 24.10,” Raineri says. That’s over 90 feet of space to fit a 79 foot tail, because the plane needs to be jacked up for maintenance. And there are three A380-scale jacks on the empty side of the hangar that dwarf us as we walk past. The planes are reversed in (by a special A380 tractor with an enormous 1300hp engine) so that engineers can access the tail via a special set of gantries in the spaces known as pockets.
Wherever possible, Lufthansa avoids moving aircraft down to the maintenance areas to the south of Frankfurt Airport, given the distance, work and time involved in physically towing the aircraft around two very active runways. Lighter maintenance can be performed at remote stands to the north, closer to the terminals.
“It’s the package we have planned,” Raineri says. “Usually it’s a good combination of routine checks, rectifying some issues, modifications, and it’s planned ahead well in advance to utilise the ground times. We try to keep most of the airplanes on the ramp in the north in operation because it’s all integrated into the daily operation. Only in major cases do we bring airplanes here to the south.”
It might be the height of summer, though you’d never know it from the chilly morning, but things are going to be hotting up in the A380 hangar. Seats taken out of or destined for a half-dozen smaller aircraft from A330 to 747-400 are waiting for Lufthansa Technik’s attention. As I leave, I spot a set of maintenance books for all the A380s, from D-AIMA (named Frankfurt am Main) through to D-AIMN, and wonder which one will be in for the careful attentions of Raineri and his team next.