Will Planes and Pilots Be Ready to Fly Again?

Are parked planes receiving maintenance? Will pilots be out of practice?

Posted Jun 10, 2020

A client emailed: "I worry about the safety of the planes. For instance, many planes are just sitting idle and many airport mechanics are out of jobs currently. My line of thinking has become, “What if the planes are not being assessed for mechanical issues or receiving maintenance?” Will the mechanics still be at the top of their game when things get back to normal?”  “Will airlines cut costs with respect to safety to recover lost revenue?” “Will pilots be out of practice?” 

  • Maintenance. When a plane is out of service for an extended time, there are only a few maintenance issues that arise. For example, the seals in the hydraulic system may dry out when the system has not been pressurized for a while. But that is easily taken care of. The system is pressurized. If there are leaks, those seals are replaced. If the plane has been resting on its tires, the tires may develop a flat spot and need to be changed. In any case, the planes are completely inspected before returning to service.
  • Mechanics. Mechanics don't depend on their memory. For every job, they are required to get the written instructions and review the steps the job requires.
  • Costs. Cost-cutting is restricted by federal regulations. As a backup, unionized pilots do not allow management to do cost-cutting that reduces safety.
  • Pilots. When a pilot reaches the level of proficiency every airline pilot reaches, the ability to operate the controls is so solidly built-in that being away from flying doesn't matter. So basic flying skills don't need to be refreshed, although they will be refreshed via a series of simulator flights. It's like your car. Even if you don't drive for a while, you have no trouble steering the car. What needs to be reviewed are procedures that are required memory items. Those are checked when the pilot is recertified.

I understand, based on this client's email, why a passenger might have some concerns come to mind. But, if I were going out to fly a plane that had been parked for a while, as a pilot, I would have no concerns about the plane, or my ability to fly it, at all.