Does the age of an aircraft matter?
Just like a car’s condition is not determined by when it was manufactured but how well it is maintained, it is the same with aircraft.
There are many planes flying in Nepal that are decades old. For example an ATR-42 twin turboprop is designed for a stipulated lifetime through research and tests. Its equipment, wings and fuselage and landing gears have strict guidelines for spare parts replacement and maintenance.
In addition, airlines that operate the planes have their own protocols for checks and certification which further have to conform to regulatory requirements of the civil aviation safety agency within the country. If a carrier is found to be in violation of any of these rules, the airline is penalised and aircraft grounded.
The age of an ATR series aircraft like the -42 or -72 is determined not by the year it was manufactured, but how many ‘cycles’ it has logged. One cycle is defined as one takeoff and one landing. For example, an aircraft is considered ‘old’ if it has performed many cycles, and necessarily because of its chronological age.
An older aircraft may not have performed too many cycles, and can keep flying as long as it is maintained as per the requirement of the manufacturer. A typical ATR-72 has tens of thousands of parts, each with its own lifespan measured in cycles. For a plane to be considered airworthy, each one of these parts must be maintained or replaced as per the manuals. Just repairing a particular part is not adequate.
It is not just the moving flight control systems of a plane, or the cockpit instrumentation that need to be checked. An aircraft’s wings, fuselage, flaps, ailerons, tail assembly, all need to be thoroughly checked after a certain number of cycles, every rivet and joint must be carefully inspected.
An airline with a fleet of ATRs needs a hangar where the maintenance work can be carried out. That is why Buddha Air invested in a state-of-the-art Rs25o million hangar 10 years ago to perform regular checks on its fleet in Nepal itself, without having to send them abroad. Buddha’s hangar has Rs1.12 billion worth of spare parts in its inventory.
Human Resources are as important as the hangar and equipment. Buddha, for example, employs nearly 200 aeronautical and mechanical engineers who have received specialised training from the ATR company itself.
Besides Buddha Air, Nepal Airlines also has a hangar with trained maintenance personnel for its airframe and engines to look after its Airbus 320s and 330s. The planes have to go for their C and D checks abroad, but most of the regular checks can be done in Kathmandu itself.
Dipendra Karna is the Communication Manager at Buddha Air.