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Not an angle that one sees often of a Boeing 747-400

Not an angle that one sees often of a Boeing 747-400

“We actually don’t do that work here. For that kind of thing, we have to ship it out to Lufthansa Technik in Germany.” If you talk to a great number of airline maintenance employees around the world, you’ll probably hear that line a few times. Many airlines are capable of doing their own aircraft maintenance, but few locations in the world take MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) to the level Lufthansa Technik does.

Airlines around the world send their aircraft to Technik for jobs ranging from a mandatory C check to a nose-to-tail cabin refurbishment. Recently, I was invited to tour Technik’s facilities in Hamburg, Germany, which is just one of their multiple full-service locations around the world.

One of the black light inspection areas in Lufthansa Technik Engine Shop

One of the black light inspection areas in Lufthansa Technik Engine Shop – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Our first stop on the Engine Services center. Engines are, by far, some of the most expensive parts on any aircraft. Most airlines perform only minor maintenance on their engines, but in the Engine Services center, several engines were completely torn down for a total rebuild.

The massive Technik hangar makes the large Airbus A380 look small.

The massive Technik hangar makes the large Airbus A380 look small.

How do you make the Airbus A380, the world’s largest airliner, look small? Put it into the Lufthansa Technik Hangar in Frankfurt Germany that’s how. While in Frankfurt for a 24 hour spiel to celebrate Lufthansa’s first Airbus A380 flight from Frankfurt to Miami, I had a chance to go check out where maintenance is done on the A380.

The Airbus A380 actually sits relatively low, but has lots of wheels.

The Airbus A380 actually sits relatively low, but has lots of wheels.

At the time, I have seen the A380 at a distance and even got to tour the inside. But this was my first opportunity to walk around the aircraft on the outside. It is surreal how tall it is standing next to it, but how at the same time it is so close to the ground. I am 6’1″ tall and my head was touching the bottom of the aircraft when taking the photo above. Closer towards the main landing gear, there is even less head room. From ground to tail, the A380 is about eight stories tall and just the fuselage is about three.

This A380 (D-AIMG) was just having minor work done and I saw her back at Frankfurt Airport the next day ready to fly.

This A380 (D-AIMG) was just having minor work done and I saw her back at Frankfurt Airport the next day ready to fly.

Lufthansa Technik Group is compiled of 30 companies world-wide that help keep Lufthansa and many other aircraft operational. Lufthansa Technik has the ability to perform checks at 60 airports around the world and they are organized into six different operational groups which serve about 750 customers worldwide: Maintenance, Overhaul, Component Services, Engine Services, VIP Services and Landing Gear Services.

Three "out holes" for the A380. The larger ones vent out air, the center will vent liquid.
Three “out holes” for the A380. The larger ones vent out air, the center will vent liquid.

Before Lufthansa took delivery of their first Airbus A380, two large facilities were built for Lufthansa Technik to handle the new aircraft. One was in Frankfurt and the other is located in Beijing. The facility in Frankfurt was completed in December of 2007 and measures about 590 x 460 feet. The hangar is large enough to hold two Airbus A380s and one Dreamlifter as was proven not too long ago.

Can you tell where the fuel tanks are located in the wing of the A380?

Can you tell where the fuel tanks are located in the wing of the A380?

Obviously the Airbus A380 can hold a lot of fuel — about 85,000 gallons worth. Unlike most other aircraft, no fuel is stored in the fuselage and it is all stored in the wings. During the tour I was wondering how I had dripping water on my head and realized that I was being rained on via the condensation from the fuel tanks in the wings.

 

How would you like to climb around the A380 tail? I wanted to, but they said something about liability.

How would you like to climb around the A380 tail? I wanted to, but they said something about liability.

Buying the aircraft and building the hangar is just part of the process. Lufthansa Technik also had to get the tools, parts and people to make it complete. The facility has more than 70,000 parts in their inventory ranging from screws to engines. Outside the hangar there is a jet testing area, which was in use during our visit (but could not take photos since it was a non-Lufthansa aircraft).

This is where the pilots can get a little shut eye during flight.

This is where the pilots can get a little shut eye during flight.

During the tour of the facility we were able to get on board D-AIMG to take a look around. Since I was about to take a 10 hour flight in an A380 in a few hours, I decided to hang out more in the front of the aircraft by the cockpit. Lufthansa’s A380 are designed so there is an external door that leads to a crew sleeping area and lavatory for the flight crew. The crew rest area was actually the largest I have seen in an aircraft and didn’t feel as claustrophobic as others.

Where all the action happens. Hard to believe this large aircraft is controlled by a little joystick.

Where all the action happens. Hard to believe this large aircraft is controlled by a little joystick.

Some folks think first class is the best seat in the house. Although they are nice, they cannot compare to the seats in the cockpit. The cockpit is very roomy and it is hard to get a feeling of the true size of the aircraft. The flight deck is located in the middle of the aircraft, which doesn’t give it the sense of height that the cockpit in the Boeing 747-400 has.

CHECK OUT ALL 19 PHOTOS FROM THE LUFTHANSA TECHNIK TOUR

A Spirit Airlines Airbus A319 is in the background with Lufthansa Orchestra playing

A Spirit Airlines Airbus A319 is in the background with the Lufthansa Orchestra playing

I have had the pleasure of checking out Lufthansa Technik (aka MRO – maintenance services) in both Frankfurt and more recently in Hamburg. I was curious about why they were starting operations in at Rafael Hernández Airport (BQN) in Puerto Rico, which is about two hours west of San Juan.

Puerto Rico is known for it welcoming beaches, but they are hoping to grow in aerospace

Puerto Rico is known for it welcoming beaches, but they are hoping to grow in aerospace

The schedule for celebration included a concert on the evening of Halloween and a less formal event the next day, with a visit from Puerto Rico’s Governor Alejandro García Padilla. The Lufthansa Orchestra was part of both days and they don’t just play for any ol’ event. In fact, this was the first time they have played outside of Europe.

Why was this so important? I wasn’t exactly sure before my trip, but after talking to quite a few people and seeing the facility myself, I was impressed with the positive impact the new operation would have on aviation in the region and even more so, the people of Puerto Rico.

D-AIDB- One of Lufthansa's newly equipped IFC aircraft. Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

D-AIDB, one of Lufthansa’s newly-equipped IFC aircraft – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

Here in the U.S., we have been spoiled by the ubiquity of in-flight connectivity (IFC). A few years ago the IFC saturation rate reached a level affording passengers the opportunity to adjust expectations from being a nice-to-have feature to a downright entitlement. Delta, our on-again, off-again largest domestic carrier, has long been an in-flight WiFi leader, having reached just shy of a 100% IFC-equipped fleet years ago. Thanks to early IFC pioneers like Gogo, with their ATG products, the U.S. has truly had a jump start on other markets.

Because of this, it may be surprising to our U.S. readership that IFC is not terribly common with short-to-medium-range flights in and around Europe. Lufthansa (plus subsidiaries Austrian Airlines and Eurowings) are looking to change that. In partnership with Lufthansa Technik, Honeywell Aerospace, and Inmarsat, these carriers are deploying a new IFC solution at the steady clip of eight planes per week.

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Lufthansa Technik to learn about Lufthansa’s new in-flight connectivity solution and even experience it first hand…