That new plane smell

Published on 17th January 2019 at 13:49

Seal of approval: Next time you’re boarding a 737, see if you can spot this metal plaque located on the top of the door seal.

There’s nothing quite like picking up the keys to a new car. But how does the process work when you’re picking up a new aircraft? Who writes the cheque to cover a sticker price of around $200 million? And how do you get it home?

We’ve now taken delivery of eight brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, so we thought it was a good chance to explain the process for picking up a new set of…wings.

Keeping an eye on the assembly: We have a ‘Qantas person’ whose job it is to be on-site with the manufacturer (Boeing or Airbus) while the aircraft is being built. This is to help answer last minute questions that might come up, especially with the cabin layout which is unique to each airline.

Try before you buy: After it rolls off the production line the aircraft is taken on two test flights to make sure everything is working as it should. The first is a production flight called B1 (operated by Boeing) and the second is C1, the Customer Acceptance Flight operated by our own Qantas crew. These normally last for a couple of hours each.

Making sure it does what it says on the box: Our pilots will check all of the key systems in-flight while engineers on the ground will make sure the aircraft is running efficiently. All cabin features, from galleys to lighting to the entertainment system and lavatories will be checked to make sure they are in full working order.

Fly away, no more to pay: When it comes to payment, there’s no novelty sized cheque, it’s a simple wire transfer made to the manufacturer.

Ticket to ride: Before we fly away, we need an airworthiness approval from CASA, Australia’s aviation regulator, it’s like the aircraft’s birth certificate. And each aircraft has a special plate that shows the manufacturer’s certification.

And with this key: Jet aircraft don’t have an ignition system operated by keys, so these are purely symbolic. There’s not fluffy dice either.

Bringing it home: The flight from the factory (either in North America or Europe) to Australia is done by Qantas pilots who are specifically sent to take delivery of the aircraft. These ‘ferry flights’ don’t have any passengers and rely heavily on sandwiches too, given there’s no one on board to prepare the food. Larger aircraft can fly non-stop but smaller ones (like an Airbus A320 or Bombardier Dash 8 turboprops) have to make several ‘gas and go’ fuel stops on the way home.

Where are my keys? While aircraft don’t have a traditional ignition key, they are delivered with a set of keys. Back in the day these keys used to open the cockpit door but now that those systems are electronic the keys that come with each aircraft are purely symbolic.

You can read more Roo Tales here.