Flying FAQs in Five Minutes

As the owner of an aircraft cleaning and maintenance company and the daughter of an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer, the aviation industry has been a part of my life from birth.  People who know about my background in air transport are always interested in learning more about what goes on behind the scenes while they’re on the other side of the security screening.  Here are some of the most Frequently Asked Questions I have been posed:

1.    No, really, how clean is that airplane?

Every airline has different cleaning standards, some more stringent than others.  While the specifics of the cleaning “checklist” for each category is different, all airlines basically adhere to the same three categories for interior grooming: Turnarounds, Remain Overnight (RONs), and Deep Grooms.  Turnarounds are the lightest form of grooming; they are essentially the cleaning that occurs at the gate between the deboarding of the arriving passengers and the boarding of the departing passengers.  Under these circumstances, the aircraft is on the ground for the minimum amount of time possible before departing for the next flight.

For RONs, the aircraft overnights at the destination station.  This type of grooming occurs either in the hangar or on the ramp.  If the aircraft is overnighting on the ramp, the grooming must be performed without running water and any power, heat, air conditioning, etc. must be provided via Ground Power Unit (GPU).

The Deep Groom is the most thorough cleaning that can be provided for an aircraft.  Every part of the aircraft is scrubbed down and disinfected.  For a deep groom to occur, the aircraft must be in the hangar for an extended period of time.  Frequently, deep grooms are performed in conjunction with a maintenance check, which occurs over several days.

2.    How do vehicles know where they’re going when they’re airside?

A different permit exists for drivers who wish to drive airside.  In order to qualify for this Airside Vehicle Operating Permit (AVOP), the driver must have a valid driver’s license, a Restricted Access Identification Card (RAIC), go through a training program, and pass the driving exam of the applicable airport authority.  In Toronto, the training program consists of at least 12 hours of theoretical and practical training from a GTAA-certified trainer.  These trainers are endorsed by the employer and must have a clean airside driving record of a minimum of three years.

The written test consists of 30 multiple choice questions with a passing grade of 90%, as well as a map of the airport that must be labelled with a passing grade of 100%.  If the candidate does not pass on their first attempt, they may take the exam again one week later.  Upon a second failure, the candidate must wait one month and submit a written request from their employer.  If the candidate fails the exam three times, the airport authority reserves the right to not allow them to take the exam again.

The driving portion of the AVOP exam must occur within three months of passing the written portion.  The same waiting period as the written exam is required should the candidate fail the driving exam.  Once again, if the driving exam has been failed three times, the airport authority has the right to refuse to allow the candidate to take the exam again.

The AVOP is valid for three years.  To renew the AVOP, the candidate must rewrite the written exam while the AVOP is still valid.

3.    How safe is my plane?

Aircraft groomers are expected to perform the security sweep of aircraft under the expectation that, in order to clean everything, they would naturally verify that everything on the aircraft belongs there and be able to find any suspicious items left on board.  Aircraft groomers are expected to undergo initial and annual recurrent training, with documentation checked yearly by Transport Canada and Transportation Security Administration.  Once a sweep has been performed, an aircraft is never left unattended, either with a guard or with the door sealed.  Both surprise and planned audits are performed by assorted government bodies, with methods being verified and items being planted for the groomers to find.

4.    What’s the deal with take-off and landing?

At Kai Tek airport in Hong Kong, aircraft take off and land at 90-second intervals.  For departures, it is not uncommon for aircraft to pull away from the gate and remain in line on the tarmac to await its turn on the runway.  However, this type of delay is impossible for arrivals.  As aircraft arrive, to avoid collision, air traffic controllers divert them into a variety of holding patterns depending on a number of factors, including arrival time, size of aircraft, gate availability and amount of fuel left in the aircraft.  If necessary, the aircraft may be asked to fly at a different altitude or to enter a loop pattern with other aircraft until an opening becomes available on the landing strip.