Elaborate rollout ceremonies are expected for new airplanes, but in the world of engineering and manufacturing, a stylish event built up around an engineering support structure is a rarity. This pattern was broken when engineering firm Semmco staged a ceremony to introduce its tail docking system at London’s Heathrow Airport in the maintenance hangar of U.K. operator bmi. The company’s system is said to have saved bmi the cost of an airplane over 12 months of use and has improved the safety of engineers working at height.
The tower system encases the aircraft tail, enabling engineers to work at four different height levels, from 8 to 30 ft. Built on a steel base, the aluminum construction of the frame and platform makes the tail dock light enough to be easily maneuvered to suit various maintenance requirements.
"Expansion of the aviation industry in recent years has brought new health and safety challenges with aircraft turnaround times reduced, increasing competition for space at airports and global pressures on the industry for ever-increasing efficiencies," said Semmco Managing Director Stuart McOnie. "The U.K. Health & Safety Executive receives about 40 reported incidents of air transport industry staff injuring themselves after falling from height every year—with a significant proportion of the most serious happening during aircraft turnaround periods.”
Besides reducing accidents, the airline purchased the tail docking solution to enable it to adopt a program of "equalized maintenance," a method of carrying out aircraft maintenance on an ongoing basis rather than blocking out time every year for a full maintenance check. Traditionally, that meant a plane was on the ground, not making money, for five days a year. By using Semmco’s new system, bmi has been able to change the process of maintenance on its extensive Airbus A320 fleet.
According to Stuart Green, Engineering Director at bmi, for equalized maintenance to be effective, the engineers have to be able to start their work tasks as soon as the airplane arrives in the hangar. The Semmco tower system, in effect, clasps around the tail section of the plane and allows access to that section of the airframe within 15 minutes of it arriving in the hangar.
Prior to using this system, the airplane would be towed into position using a tug, which is time-consuming, and as Green noted, “It also left a margin for driver error, which could result in damage to the aircraft—especially as a wide fin needed to be reversed into a relatively small area. The new tail dock keeps us fully in control of the aircraft preparation process.”
Reaction from the engineering staff has been positive because the tower structure is not just safer, but, according to Green, they have found that it gives them more confidence and makes the work areas easier to work in.