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If a large passenger airliner needs repair at a remote airport without services, are there "flying repairshops" that can swoop in and do the work on site?

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...like this! :) (OK, maybe the DC-3 isn't "large" by today's standards...) – voretaq7 Jun 13 '14 at 15:30
up vote 23 down vote accepted

If you can, you'll fly in maintance yourself to get it fixed, perhaps by chartering a cargo plane on the way. If you can land the aircraft, you can probably get any spare part in through the same runway, with varying degrees of difficulty.

If it's bad, Boeing has an Aircraft On Ground team who should be able to fix pretty serious damage. Often, it may just be patched up until it's good enough to fly to get it to a place with better facilities.

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It seem airlines also share technical resources including their own 24/7 AOG rapid response teams. There are also independent companies offering this sort of service. Example 1, example 2 – RedGrittyBrick Jun 13 '14 at 13:32
yup. KLM used to have (maybe still does) a regular shuttle flying maintenance rigs, spare parts, and crews to stranded MD-11s. Maintenance facilities for them are few and far between and they were/are rather prone to trouble in the #3 engine (of course, always the hard to reach bits fail first). – jwenting Jun 13 '14 at 14:43
@jwenting: #3 engine is accessible reasonably. It's under right wing. Engines are numbered left to right, so the hard to access centre one is #2. – Jan Hudec Jun 13 '14 at 20:23

If the problem is a bad engine and the aircraft is a 747, the most cost effect solution is usually a 3-engine ferry to a repair station. From memory, the protocol to be observed includes:

  • The Captain must do the flying.
  • Only the cockpit crew can be aboard.
  • The fan must be tied down to prevent it's rotation in flight.
  • A specific takeoff procedure is to be followed.

At the two 747 carriers I worked for, we usually did a 3-engine takeoff in the sim on our 6-month checks. I did two of them for real, and it's no big deal.

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No airport capable of handling widebodies will have no services at all, but of course many places lack a full maintenance shop.

As mentioned elsewhere, Boeing has a go team that can get most repairable damage brought back to flyable condition. "Flyable" does not necessarily mean "normal, scheduled service" - it means able to leave the remote field and limp back to a facility able to do the proper work. This could easily be Seattle or Hamburg from Johannesburg. If you want to reposition an aircraft for maintenance you can have a LOT of stuff broken - basically if the engineers say they'll ride in it, and you avoid overflying large cities, you're good.

Several large aircraft have an option to carry an extra engine on the wing to a remote grounded aircraft - expensive, but cheaper than cargo (it can be on a scheduled revenue flight). Put a couple of mechanics on board and the job's done in a day or two. The bad engine comes back the same way.

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Actually, quite a few do lack the facilities because no such aircraft are stationed there, they just land, drop off passengers, and leave again with hopefully more passengers. Think charter destinations. Or what facilities they have are for light aircraft and maybe business jets only, incapable of handling anything airliner size. That's in fact very common. – jwenting Jun 13 '14 at 14:42
@jwenting Things are hopefully better now than they were in the 1990s when I was captaining 747s, but we constantly faced the problem of having no repair capability (or even working huffers if the APU was inoperative) in third world countries, and especially in Africa. Right or wrong, we often didn't write up grounding problems in such places when there was no real compromise in safety. – Terry Jun 13 '14 at 15:42
@Terry I doubt much has changed in most of Africa except for the worse in the last 20 years or so... – jwenting Jun 13 '14 at 16:25
There are also issues that arise when an airplane has to divert sure to an emergency, and maintenance may not be available where they land. – Lnafziger Jun 14 '14 at 13:45
@nitpickers: when I said "no services at all" I meant it. Nothing. No FBO, no terminal, diesel is delivered by truck only on request. You don't land a widebody there unless you're desperate. – paul Jun 15 '14 at 0:55

That would depend on the damage that needs to be repaired.

Some repairs (like replacing an engine) can be done on site.

For more serious damage that can't be fixed on site they will make a quick patch and then fly the aircraft to a facility capable of properly doing the repairs while taking care to not aggravate the existing problem.

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