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By the time you leave the baggage claim, the plane is almost ready to take off again. Photo: Magnus Glans
By the time you leave the baggage claim, the plane is almost ready to take off again. Photo: Magnus Glans

How to get a plane ready from one flight to another

Thanks to almost unbelievable efficiency and precision it takes just half an hour to get a plane ready for its next trip. This is how it’s done.

09:24 - Taxiing to gate

A Boeing 737-800 from Copenhagen lands in Stockholm. The 50-ton aircraft uses another 200 liters of fuel to taxi to the gate. Meanwhile, the gate manager does a foreign object damage (FOD) check for objects that could be sucked into the engines at the gate.  A digital sign shows the correct taxiing information to the pilot, counting down from 15 meters until the word STOP is displayed for the pilot.

09:30- On the block

The loadmaster connects the electricity supply from the ground to the underneath of the aircraft’s nose. At the same time, the pilot cuts the engines, turns off the computers and hydraulic pumps, and lifts up the flaps, then notes the remaining fuel and oil and any technical faults in his logbook. The purser opens the plane’s front door, and the jet’s bridge is then pushed forward and attached to the side of the plane like a plunger.

09:31- Off-loading

The de-boarding of passengers begins and the baggage trolleys arrive at the plane’s baggage hold. A height-adjustable conveyor sends all the cases down to the baggage trolleys. Small trucks pick up the baggage, while newspapers and post are placed in a smaller trolley that loaders pull away by hand. The pilots download a flight plan to their iPads and the aircraft’s computers ahead of the next flight, to Prague.

09:37 - Catering, cleaning

The catering truck parks, facing first the front and then the rear doors of the cabin. The loading area is raised to the level of the door opening and the catering trolleys are wheeled in on a ramp. Meanwhile, the water and toilet truck arrives. It connects to the aircraft’s tail section, where it fills up the water and removes sewage.The cleaning crew clean removes the general waste, clean and replace trash bags in the cabin, and are off the plane within five minutes.

When a plane taxis up to the gate, everybody is in position and knows exactly what to do. Photo: Magnus Glans

09:38 - Fueling

A fuel truck parks under the right wing, where the refueler undoes four snap locks under the wing and opens a rectangular flap. The fuel hose is unfurled until it reaches a hole in the ground, which leads to underground pipelines from the fuel depot. The hose is fixed into the hole, accompanied by warning flags. 6.3 tons of fuel are pumped to fill the plane, which will use 37 tons of fuel en route to Prague. The refueler holds an emergency stop device to cut the supply at the slightest hint of a system fault.

09:42 - Loading & boarding

Balance is everything when loading a plane. Passengers and baggage must be spread as evenly as possible across the aircraft. The loaders are given loading instructions before they begin, which are based on the weight distribution. They fill the baggage hold with suitcases and Swedish newspapers bound for Prague according to their instructions. The purser receives the passenger list, partitions off the cabin with a sign, then checks the food supply before welcoming passengers.

Ejvind Nyberg is controlling pressure in the left engine fire extinguisher bottles, located in the wheel well. Photo: Magnus Glans09:47 - Release

Once boarding and loading are complete, three releases are sent: the gate manager sends a passenger release, the pilots send a fuel release, and the loadmaster sends a load release.
Once this is done, the pilots automatically receive a load sheet showing the calculated weight and balance for this flight. Based on these figures, the pilots set the stabilizer, or tail fin, at an angle that will provide balance and stability to the aircraft.

09:50 - External inspection

The captain starts up the systems, and checks the panels against a checklist: Oxygen masks, electrical systems, and hydraulic pumps. Meanwhile, the co-pilot inspects the exterior. He sticks his head into the undercarriage and checks the hydraulic hoses and brake linings, and to see that no birds have become trapped there. He makes sure that all flaps and vents are closed and that no ice has formed on the wings.

09:52 - Inspection part two

If there is ice on the wings, the co-captain orders de-icing, which involves spraying a glycol solution onto the wings. Finally he checks the tail skid on the lower tail section of the aircraft, which indicates whether any asphalt has found its way onto the tail upon landing. It seldom happens, perhaps once every three years at most, but in the unlikely event that it has happened, an engineer checks the aircraft.

09:58 - Off block

The central data system compiles a load sheet for the captain to confirm. The auxiliary power unit is started, the outside electricity supply disconnected, and the gate is released from the aircraft. Soon after, the plane’s generators take over the electricity supply. The push-back truck attaches to the wheel. The pilots release the brakes, report “off block” and get a departure slot. The plane taxis to the runway, ready for take-off.

Text: Mårten Färlin 

Watch the Turnaround video below:

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