One maintenance visit? That will be two million euros.

reparing the engine blogikuva

Aircraft are a work of art put together using many engineering elements. The number of technologies in use is phenomenal. These technologies have to communicate smoothly with each other and often in challenging conditions. For example, the typical temperature for a scheduled flight cruising height is about -50 degrees Celsius, while the temperature at the destination could be almost the same figure on the plus side. The surfaces of the aircraft and its structure are planned to endure such extreme loads in the air. The entity has to work in practice with absolute reliability. That’s why the reliability of the aircraft, equipment and engines is monitored continuously and maintenance work is carried out in accordance with requirements.

The maintenance and repair of such a complex system cost a great deal. But what does ‘a great deal’ mean in this context? 500 euros is a hell of a lot to give your car a regular maintenance. Monthly maintenance fees for a Finnish apartment might not come to more than 200 euros. A hundred for a car exhaust pipe or check-up is going to be painful.

But compare that with how much it costs to keep a passenger aircraft in excellent working condition. For example, the regular maintenance performed every few years on the engines of every single aircraft can cost between one and two million euros – with the biggest sum accounted for by astronomically expensive repairs and replaced parts. Heavy maintenance carried out every six years on the biggest passenger aircraft can exceed two million. Annual maintenance comes in at just under half a million.

Planes serving our Asian routes carry out an average of two landings daily. Undercarriage mechanisms, wheels and brakes endure a lot of stress during landings. Undercarriages are maintained regularly but more basic repairs need to be done only about once very eight years. Thank goodness, since with the amount that it costs for one such service you’d be able to buy a detached house in the Helsinki area of several hundred square metres.

In other words the bill for wheels and brakes for each landing is about the same as a new set of car tyres. Critical parts that malfunction need to be acquired before the next flight, and if they can’t be obtained from our own stores they may be rented from another airline – at a cost of several thousand euros a day.

Various plans for maintenance are made on the basis of the calendar, the number of flight hours or the number of actual flights. Maintenance costs represent about a tenth of an airline’s total costs. Per flight the cost is smaller, but it means a more efficient fleet is being employed. The same analogy applies to the cost per passenger – provided that the load factor keeps pace with the increase in use of the aircraft.

Some years ago I received an essay by a schoolboy to read. The essay was about flying helicopters. The well-researched piece of work included lots of unearthed facts. But the ending especially stuck in my mind. The lad had concluded: “Flying is so expensive that in practice it can only be done by the State.” I thanked the boy for his essay. Hopefully the airlines of today can find permanent ways to run on a healthy basis, so that the closing message of that essay can be proved untrue.

Vesa Paukkeri