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I'm wondering if large A3x0/B7x7 airliners could be operated without ground support. Short of using the inflatable slides, I guess at least stairs would be required to load/unload passengers. Appart from that, assuming fuel and push-back is not required, would it be possible to land, switch the engines and systems off and then take-off again without electrical, A/C, etc. ground support?

Bonus question: if possible, are there any circumstances where this is routinely/occasionally done? I know that it's definitely the case for smaller aircraft such as ATR 72 servicing remote airports -- I experienced that at e.g. Luang Prabang airport.

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related: aviation.stackexchange.com/q/2035/609 – ratchet freak Mar 23 '14 at 18:28
Actually ATR 72 has much more problem with this than other aircraft, because it does not have APU and running the engine (#2) with propeller brake is very inefficient. I've read story by a pilot of one who mentioned at some airport(s) it took some time to teach the ground crews they need external power, so presumably other aircraft just used APU. – Jan Hudec Mar 23 '14 at 21:10
up vote 14 down vote accepted

In a word, yes. The APU (auxiliary power unit) will supply air pressure and power the electrical systems needed to start the aircraft. No ground support is required.


It's routinely done all the time! Next time you're at the airport, watch a 7xx or A3xx. Ignoring stairs, fuel, food, toilet drains etc there is sometimes no external air or power supply attached. The APU will be running during boarding to power the aircraft and condition the cabin. It is then used to start engines during the pushback. When in the cabin, you will notice the packs being switched off (the packs supply cabin air) as the air is diverted to the engine starters.

The only times I've seen this not done is when an external air conditioning cart is attached as the APU cannot cool the aircraft.

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Usually on the ground you will have a GPU hooked up. It won't be a cart but a cable hanging from the jet bridge. You are correct however, that this is not needed as starting the APU provides all needed power for the aircraft and air for air conditioning and engine starts. – casey Mar 23 '14 at 18:41

There's a good example which is the A319 LR which flies scientists down to Antartica. They utilize (very) little ground support, except for the stairs (they seem to have inbuilt ones in the front as well, although these are not used on site) and the trucks to offload the cargo. APU provides the power on the ground, and the aircraft has sufficient juice in the tanks to make the round trip without refuelling.


You can read up on it here. She does weekly flights from Hobart to Wilkins aerodrome in Summer. 4 hours and 30 minutes of flying right into the uninhabited :)

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Cool! Exactly the kind of unusual practice I was curious about... – abey Mar 23 '14 at 22:44
How is the APU restarted if it shuts down for any reason? – hexafraction Nov 15 '14 at 2:44
@hexafraction the APU itself is started from the batteries. If you have a look online you'll find videos and pictures of aircraft undergoing certification where they are parked north of the polar circle cold and dark for days only to be started with batteries and the apu. – Thunderstrike Nov 15 '14 at 16:56

The venerable DC-9 was designed to service small airports out away from the hubs with a minimum of equipment. The engines were up on the fuselage rather than under the wing so that the landing gear legs could be short, lowering the fuselage. This result let the baggage compartment be reached without the usual portable conveyor belt. Air stairs were built into the fuselage and were deployed horizontally, until they lowered the outboard end to the ground.

Gravel kicked up by the nosegear and then ingested by the engines became a problem so the DC-9s and the MD-80s that followed had a gravel deflector shield mounted on the nosewheel.

Now the DC-9 is not a Boeing or Airbus in the original question (ok, ok, lets agree to set aside the Boeing 717 that was the final iteration of the DC-9/MD-80 family) but the principle endures: Large commercial airliners can be designed to function nicely without a ton of ground support. However, the vast majority of commercial airports are well equipped to handle planes, so the designers of the planes have in many cases left all that stuff off the planes to save weight, complexity, and space. So the ground support is necessary.

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It is possible with the old soviet wide-bodies; they have built-in stairs and even allow for luggage stowage by the crew during boarding. This autarky led to significantly increased weight, which meant that while these planes could land at remote destinations, they suffered from incompetitiveness in inter-airport service. And well, how often would one need a wide-body to bring 350 people into the middle of nowhere?

Many military transport aircraft, while having similar size as the aforementioned airliners, can fly tanks and/or equipment into remote areas. Fedex would never buy one, though... these machines are plain incompetitive in both acquisition and maintenance.

No plane requires a pushback vehicle in a remote destination, if said destination has a rotunda big enough for a full-turn, or if you have a runway with double the normal length.

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"even allow for luggage stowage by the crew during boarding" the actual idea was for passengers to load their own luggage. Flown on an Il-86 once in the USSR and that was exactly what we had to do, carry our luggage to the aircraft. But there was ground crew to make sure it was properly stowed, the idea of passengers loading their own suitcases had been partially abandoned shortly after the aircraft entered service. – jwenting Aug 20 '14 at 7:55

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