As commercial flight schedules grow ever more congested, the slightest delay to one aircraft can cause a ricochet effect and, with it, extensive disruption. Fuel leaks are the number one reason for grounded aircraft and pose a substantial risk to continuity, having the power to ground an aircraft for as long as 48 hours.
In response to this threat, Aerowing has developed new technology to identify and solve aircraft fuel leaks in a fraction of the time taken using traditional methods, making vital reductions to aircraft downtime and, in turn, reducing cancellations.
Liam Stoker: How does the rapid leak detection and reseal technology work?
Mike Evans: Fuel leaks are one of the three main causes of an aircraft to be grounded, and quickly identifying the origin of the leak is one of the key factors to a rapid repair. There are several methods of fixing fuel engine leaks passed down in countless manuals, but only a couple of methods can pinpoint the precise location of a leak.
We use helium as a tracer gas in our leak detection technology. Helium is an extremely small molecule. The helium helps quickly identify the precise origination point of the leak as it easily traverses through the leak path. It’s a safe gas with no flammable or corrosive qualities, so it’s perfect for use inside fuel tanks.
The process involves marking the origination point of the leak, then quickly removing the failed sealant from the affected area without scratching the tank structure. We developed our Rapid Curing Device so that once the new repair sealant is applied, it can be cured within an hour for B1/2 type sealants, and within three hours for B2 type sealants. Once the sealant has cured, the maintainer can verify the repair work by reversing the helium detection process.
LS:Without the use of this technology, how long would an average leak detection and reseal process take?
ME: If we can take a 737 as an average example, by the time a maintainer has got into the tank, identified the leak using traditional methods, manually desealed the area and resealed it, while also allowing time for the sealant to cure, a downtime of around 48-72 hours can be expected. Our technology can reduce this time period to around 12 hours.
LS: Does the process change at all when used on military and passenger aircraft? Are there different materials used on a military aircraft that wouldn’t necessarily be used on a passenger plane?
ME: The processes are, in fact, very similar. One of the few variations is if there are bladder cells present. Aside from that, the aircraft are essentially the same structurally so the process is almost identical. There may be a case of the need for a different adaptor for our technology, but these can be provided.
LS: How easy or difficult is the training process for this technology?
ME: Training is required and consists of classroom and hands on time. We provide training to our customers, worldwide. The technology is not difficult to learn and, once the training is received, the maintainers understand how to get the best benefit from the equipment. They feel confident they will be able to greatly reduce their downtime.
The course is typically three days, Tuesday through Thursday (Monday and Friday being travel days for the trainer). Tuesday, we’ll go over classroom items in the training manual, before hands-on training on Wednesday and Thursday. This syllabus is to ensure that they are familiar with the technology and how to carry out the process.
We also conduct servicing after the technology has been used for a year, we recalibrate the equipment, as required.
LS: Are there any available figures in terms of cost savings? For example, the amount extensive fuels leaks cost against the cost of the technology?
ME: Based on a particular fleet size, 350 aircraft for example, you can expect that at any given time 1-5 of those aircraft are grounded for fuel leaks. If you figure that your average wide body aircraft carries 300 passengers, and tons of cargo, and it’s delayed significantly because of a fuel leak, then those 300 passengers are joined by the 300 passengers at the destination who are to board the next leg flight, and so on.
The ricochet effect can be so detrimental that technology proven to significantly reduce downtime, such as ours, can achieve a return of investment within a few months. It can even be less than a month, depending on how often the airline’s fleet is suffering with grounded aircraft, due to fuel leaks.
Both militaries and passenger airlines focus on the minutes and hours of saved downtime.