Have you ever what happens when an aircraft arrives on stand?
Have you looked out of the window prior to boarding and wondered what the hive of activity is around the aircraft?
Let me take you on a short journey and explain to you what goes on...
During my role as a team leader during a turn around, my job was to lead the team in unloading and loading the aircraft in a correct and safe manor and sticking to airport directives and of course ensuring we adhere to company directives.
Our work starts approx 35/40 mins before the aircraft arrives on stand, we receive a figure from station control which tells us how much luggage is onboard the aircraft, we then have to get the necessary equipment needed for the turnaround.
For a Boeing 737-800 we needed 4 chocks, 2 sets of steps, 9 cones, 2 conveyor belts, 2 electric baggage tugs, 4 baggage trailers and a tug and bar for departure.
A turnaround usually consists of around 6 people, 5 of these people will go to the stand and meet the inbound aircraft while the remaining person will go to the bag hall and collect the "outbound" bags which will be loaded onto the aircraft for departure.
The team will assemble on stand approx 15 mins before arrival and do what's called a "FOD check" for those who don't know, FOD stands for "foreign object debris" this is could be a broken wheel, a handle, baggage tag, anything at all that's been left on stand and could potentially be ingested into the engine of the arriving aircraft. Once the stand is clear we can accept the aircraft and set up the "safedock" this is the parking system which is used by the captain telling him where the centreline is and where to stop the aircraft. Once the safedock is set, I assign roles to the team, who will chock the wheels, who will attach the steps and who will put out cones around the aircraft.
Once the aircraft stops, we MUST NOT approach the aircraft until engines have spooled down and anti collision lights are switched off, I then conduct a visual walk around inspection of the aircraft BEFORE any GSE (Ground service equipment) is attached to the aircraft, once complete the steps and conveyor belts can be placed on the aircraft, I then attach the ground power to the aircraft allowing the shut down of the APU.
Due to tipping issues the rear of a 737-800 MUST be offloaded first and loaded last ensuring that it remains nose heavy on the ground. The total luggage is always divided 50/50 between the forward and rear holds.
While the baggage is being removed I insert the "steering bypass pin" this MUST be inserted before the tow bar is connected to the nose gear to avoid any damage to the steering systems, once pin is inserted I can attach the bar followed by the tug.
Once the bags have been taken off the aircraft I send 2 of the team to place these on the baggage carousels for collection by the passengers, at the aircraft we are positioning the conveyor belts to load the aircraft, loading does not commence until I am given the "LIR" which is a "Load Instruction Report" which tells me where to load the bags, this ensures the aircraft stays in trim and the COG does not move. 99.9% of the time we load 50/50 split which we don't get until check in has closed and all bags are in.
Once we have the figure confirmed we start to load the forward hold first, once again ensuring it's nose heavy for the load, when the front load is complete, the cargo nets are fastened and door is closed, all equipment at the forward hold is removed from the aircraft. We then begin the loading of the rear hold with the remaining bags, we also place "gate items" in the rear hold, this can be buggies, musical instruments and bags tagged at the gate which are not suitable for the overhead lockers in the cabin. Once the gate is closed and all bags are in, the rear hold is secured, nets fastened, door closed and equipment removed.
I then confirm with the dispatcher the total number of items in each hold and ensure it tallies up with the final figure, an aircraft MUST NOT depart if the numbers differ.
When all figures tally up and the captain is happy, we begin to remove the GSE, the rear steps are removed first, followed by the cones to the rear of the aircraft, the ground power is only removed once clearance is given by the flight deck crew. Once the aircraft is signed off by dispatch and captain, the forward steps, remaining cones and chocks can be removed and aircraft readied for departure. The person on the headset will conduct a visual inspection of the aircraft on a walk around checking that all hatches and doors are secured and that the bypass pin is installed and the tug and bar have a safe/secure connection.
Walk around complete, the headset operator will confirm all the final checks done with the captain and will await instructions from the captain for the pushback.
Once clearance for pushback is received the headset operator will give me the signal for "brakes off" and which direction to position the aircraft. The pushback commences at "walking pace" and until the headset operator tells the tug when to stop.
Pushback complete, we disconnect the tug, bar, pin and headset and proceed to the taxiway base line, we wait here until the aircraft is given taxi clearance and begins its taxi to the runway.
The remainder of the team do not leave the stand until this time in case we get a "return to stand" once aircraft departs our work is not complete until the stand is cleared of all equipment we used, the stand is then made available to the next inbound aircraft that's assigned to it.
I hope this gives you and idea of the hard work that goes into the turn around of an aircraft, this is based purely on the luggage side, I will at another time cover the catering, the fuelling, the toilet and water service, the de-icing and much more, any questions you may have regarding this post, please do ask and I'll do my best to answer them!