The big build

Emirates Airline is constructing a huge maintenance facility at Dubai International Airport. Featuring eight hangars — each twice the area of a football pitch — the centre is a vital part of the airline’s expansion plans.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  May 31, 2005

|~||~||~|An army of 3000 construction workers and engineers is working around the clock to get Emirates’ new US $353 million engineering centre completed by the end of the year. The massive facility will be key to supporting the airline’s equally huge fleet, not least the 45 double-decker A380s that will be flying in Emirates’ livery. The centre of the maintenance facility is eight 110 m x 105 m hangars — including a dedicated paint shop that will be equipped with telescopic platforms for spraying aircraft — all of which will be able to hold an Airbus A380 or a Boeing 777. Along with a range of support facilities, these buildings, which are twice the size of a football pitch, will give the airline the capacity it needs to support its growing fleet. “The idea of building the new facility was based around the company’s expansion plans,” explains Adel Al-Redha, executive vice president, engineering & operations, Emirates. “Considering the number of aircraft we are going to be getting, it was clear that our current facility was simply not big enough to cope with our maintenance requirements.” The new engineering facility, the main consultant for which was ADPi, will give Emirates the capacity it needs for its own fleet, as well as opening up opportunities for third party work. The airline is currently unable to do this because of space constraints, but when the new facility opens, Emirates plans to offer some limited services, mainly airframe and components maintenance, and, particularly, avionics. “We already have all of the automated testing equipment for the various aircraft types, and we have been doing this for a long time and developed a good level of expertise, therefore we will be able to provide services to other airlines,” says Al-Redha. “We will not be aiming for the same levels as Lufthansa Technik or Air France Industries, but we will definitely take our third party work to a higher level [than now].” “The A380, in particular, is one of the aircraft where I think we will have a good opportunity to provide services to other airlines, as not many carriers will be equipped to the same level of sophistication in terms of equipment and hangar space as Emirates,” he adds. “However, [third party work] will not be limited to just that aircraft, we will also look to provide similar levels of support for other aircraft as well.” The hangars in the new facility, which is situated to the north of Dubai International Airport, are all the same size to make the design process easier. However the interiors will be different, as three of the maintenance hangars will be given over to light maintenance and four have been designed for heavy work. “The number of hangars was decided on based upon the number of maintenance checks required each year, and I think we will be running three or four parallel lines of heavy maintenance,” explains Al-Redha. In the heavy maintenance hangars, fixed docking systems will be installed that will allow easy access to the fuselage, wings and tail. By contrast, the light maintenance facilities will have movable docking systems that will allow access to each area when needed. Designing these docking systems proved to be a complex task because of the range of aircraft they will be used with. All of the Emirates fleet will be serviced in the hangars, so the docking systems need to allow safe access to aeroplanes ranging from twin-engine A330s up to four-engine A340s and A380s, and to all of the types in between as well. “It is quite easy building a docking system that caters for one type of aeroplane… but when you build a multi-docking system, which will take 19 or 20 different aircraft, of all different types, lengths and profiles, it makes life very difficult,” says Bob Lunn, manager, engineering facilities, Emirates. “We have achieved it with two of our docking systems, and now we are having to do it for the A380 as well. Of course, as we will have the freighter version [as well as the passenger version], we will have to cater for the upper cargo doors in the design. Then there are the 777s and who knows what else is coming in the future,” he adds. The hangars each have three roof-mounted cranes, and 88 m wide sliding steel doors made of four segments. There will also be a mezzanine level within each building, which will be key for working on the upper storey of the A380s in particular. For instance, all 650 seats can be wheeled out of a plane and onto this level, which will greatly simplify removing and replacing them. To provide natural light within the hangars, the bottoms of the doors and the upper part of the hangars will use polycarbonate sheeting. On the ground, all of the supply pipes needed for maintenance work, such as power lines and air conditioning, will be buried under the floor using Cavotec’s Aircraft Support Systems. When needed, a console will rise up from the floor, which will keep the hangar free from a mess of loose tubes and cables. A particular challenge for the engineering department will be keeping the hangars cool. This is a vital task given Dubai’s sweltering temperatures, but air-conditioning eight massive hangars could be a hugely expensive proposition. Therefore, to help cut the costs, the buildings have been given arched roofs, which reduces their total volume. A new air conditioning system that combines potable and irrigation waters will also be installed, which is 80% cheaper to run that traditional systems. “We are not just throwing money at it and building the biggest facility that we can,” says Lunn. “Instead, we are making it as economical to run as possible.” This focus on economy also means that the facility has been designed with efficiency in mind. This is a key task, as the sheer size of the site, 55 hectares (136 acres), means that much time can be wasted just getting from A to B. The cleaning contractor, for instance, which will have 100 personnel on site full time, anticipates losing an hour per person per day, just transporting employees between jobs. Emirates’ engineers and maintenance staff will face the same challenge, even though the facility is being designed to make transportation as easy as possible. ||**|||~||~||~|The key onsite link will be a 0.75 km two-storey road running between the workshops and hangars. Heavy parts and engines will be moved along at ground level, while cabin goods and smaller items will be transported on the first level using electric vehicles. A variety of electric and traditional vehicles will also be used by staff, ranging from tricycles and Segway Human Transporters to golf carts and buses. Maintaining the right parts inventory levels will also be key in keeping costs down. The spare parts will be held in a huge storage facility, which will feature 220 m x 60 m of racking with automated retrieval. This will be used to store parts and to quickly move them about the warehouse, following a logistics set-up and flow designed by Lufthansa Technik. “Getting the right flow [of parts] with the best means of transporting the equipment from the stores to the users will definitely enhance our ground times and maximise our efficiencies,” says Al-Redha. Other facilities within the engineering centre include a 2000-space car park, a mosque and an administration building, which will have an auditorium, gym and staff canteen. The centre will also have a number of specialised workshops, including an engine facility, where powerplants will be inspected, split into modules and repaired. “There will be a huge number of engine removals — in excess of 100 units to be removed and maintained on a yearly basis — and this require us to build an engine workshop in a similarly sophisticated manner [to the hangars],” says Al-Redha. “That whole process needs to be built with the right cranes and equipment… And you cannot do it only for one size, but for different types of engines and parallel [maintenance] lines.” The engineering centre will also have a 110 m x 106 m engine run-up facility with a 15 m high wall, which will cut the external noise levels by 15.6 decibels. Away from the main engineering centre, the airline is also building an engine testbed in partnership with Engine Alliance. This will allow the carrier to test its full range of engines, and also cut the number of engines it needs. “It will produce huge benefits to the company in terms of spares investment… because the turnaround time, compared to shipping an engine overseas, will be a lot shorter, which means we can reduce our inventory,” says Al-Redha. “The cost of testing will also all be inhouse rather than going to external parties,” he adds. Aside from growing the facilities it has, Emirates is also racking up its engineering workforce to ensure that it has enough people to work on its growing fleet. Presently, the maintenance shop has around 1500 engineers, mechanics and support personnel, but this will more than double once the new facility moves into full operation. The airline therefore needs to recruit a huge number of qualified personnel, while also ensuring that they arrive in line with the operational requirements. “We need to keep close track on ensuring that the resources are available to us at the time of the introduction of the various aircraft types,” says Al-Redha. “We are therefore closely monitoring our needs and identifying different methods for ensuring the availability of these staff.” One of the key tools for getting staff will be the airline’s own training centre, which will move from the Emirates Aviation College to the maintenance base. Working with the aviation college, and also the UAE’s Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), the maintenance training centre will run apprenticeships for 40-50 UAE nationals each year, thereby providing a supply of fresh blood for the engineering department. “It is an investment for the future, as you are preparing a group of people to take jobs when you need them,” says Al-Redha. He also believes that moving the training centre to the engineering facility will better prepare the apprentices for their future careers. “This is the biggest advantage we will have at this facility,” says Al-Redha. “Being altogether will provide the trainees and trainers with a quick means to seeing an aircraft, the parts and systems in reality, which is always much better than just looking at a picture,” he adds. “The apprentices will also live in a true maintenance environment, which will enhance their awareness of safety issue and of the seriousness of the job, as well as building inside them a true feeling for aircraft maintenance.”||**||

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