Rattle snakes are squatting in Qantas planes stranded in the Californian desert, prompting crews to come up with new ways to combat the slithering reptiles.
Engineers looking after the airline’s A380 fleet in the Mojave Desert while it is grounded due to Covid-19 are whacking away snakes and scorpions calling plane wheels home.
The “wheel whacker” is the latest tool crafted by crews based at the airline’s Los Angeles hanger to help them solve the problem.
Qantas’ LA engineering manager, Tim Heywood, said weekly maintenance is paramount to ensuring the planes are ready to bring in for service, however storing the A380s in the desert has uncovered a venomous hazard.
“The area is well-known for its feisty rattlers who love to curl up around the warm rubber tyres and in the aircrafts’ wheels and brakes,” Mr Heywood said.
“We’ve encountered a few rattle snakes and also some scorpions, but the wheel whacker does its job and they scuttle off.”
The wheel whacker is a repurposed broom, with each aircraft designated its own hitter complete with the plane’s registration number.
A bulk of the world’s planes has been placed in the Mojave Desert for deep storage while travel numbers remain minimal during the pandemic.
The A380 fleet is not expected to be brought back into service at least for another two years.
Deserts are the prime storage place for planes due to the dry heat and little to no humidity, however the famous US desert is littered with highly venomous rattle snakes.
Airlines are well equipped to deal with birds and insects nesting in crevices within planes, but the widescale 2020 grounding has created a new wave of critters looking to find a warm place to live.
Qantas engineering crews check on aircraft at least once a week at Victorville, a two-hour drive from the air base at LAX.
Mr Heywood said this unique part of the weekly inspection is further evidence of how strange the past year has been for the aviation industry, especially for the A380 fleet which normally would rarely spend more than 24 hours on the ground.
Mr Heywood noted the whackers are to ensure no harm comes to either the engineers or the snakes.
“The first thing we do before we unwrap and start any ground inspection of the landing gear in particular is to walk around the aircraft stomping our feet and tapping the wheels with a wheel whacker to wake up and scare off the snakes,” he said.
“Only then do we carefully approach each wheel and unwrap them before performing our pressure checks and visual inspections.”
Qantas in the last week woke up one of its A380s for a quick fly down to LA for a maintenance check, called a gear swing procedure.
It is the first time in 290 days a Qantas A380 has been in the sky.
Before the pandemic a number of the airline’s A380s were refurbished but have not yet been used in service.
“Aircraft like these are highly technical and you can’t just land it at the storage facility, park it and walk away,” Mr Heywood said.
“Some of these aircraft have brand-new interiors still with the plastic on the seats, so we are proud to keep them in top-notch condition until the time comes for them to fly again.
“We can hang up our wheel whackers at that point.”