Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Monday evening tug testing

Monday evening was a different aviation experience for me, with Air NZ testing to towing of an ATR72-600, ZK-MVH, using their Lektro [please someone correct me if this is wrong!] towbar-less aircraft tugs. These tugs are used on their DHC8's already - maybe A320's as well?

Apparently though, it was a world-first with the manufacturer having only just certified that it can be done, and with Air NZ being the first airline in the world to test it for real!

The test consisted of filling every seat and the baggage compartment [and presumably fuel] and towing the aircraft around the apron for a good hour or so, just to make sure everything would work, and that the aircraft could handle it. Tests were conducted with props spinning and still. Apparently, ATR72's have a relatively "weak" undercarriage, which limits the amount of force that can be applied to it and alongside that, there's a reasonable and understandable desire to ensure the aircraft CoG isn't an issue [this might be the biggest issue from what I'm told]. Add in a wet tarmac, some slope [I think the Wellington apron slopes up to 1-2 degrees in places] and wind, and it's certainly something worth testing before it is needed for real.

A driver for this change of proceduresis a rearranging of gate positions at Wellington, so that ATRs will be backed [using the tugs] onto the gate, then "driven straight out" when they are loaded. So... expect to see some changes in the future!

As for the evening itself, there were about 15-20 Aero Club people [and associates], plus a bunch of other people to fill ever seat in the place. There were two of Air NZ's friendly cabin crew, who gave us water, biscuits, fudge and lollies... and for some reason I was given a kid's colouring in page and pencils... :-) ha! First of the plane also received pizza... I was almost last, so ,missed out on that :-(

Anyway, here are a few pictures form the evening. Photos were taken on my phone. I really wanted to get a photo of the tug, but it was a bit out of the way, and I'm not sure wandering around would have been that welcome!

First up is an entrance to the airport terminal, after parking.

Wellington Airport terminal
We must be at Wellington Airport - where else would you be greeted by this at the checkin counters?

Everyone received a personalised boarding pass - this was a requirement since we were going airside. A nice souvenir anyway!

Boarding pass for the "non flight flight" :-)
On arrival at gate 9, we got our first glimpse at the ATR72-600, ZK-MVH, which we would be seated on for just over an hour.

First glimpse to the apron and ZK-MVH

Following this, it was backed up to the gate, ready for boarding.

ATR-GIE ATR72-600, ZK-MVH, operated by Mount Cook Airline/ Air NZ

Amazing how happy a bunch of airplane people can look when sat on an aircraft which is not going to take off! I've blurred the face of those not associated in some way with the Aero Club... the rest of you, well, here you are!

Yes, this was the good one!
The normal facilities were available, but not needed! Actually, the place had been cleaned, so we were asked to not use the on-board lavatory, but to use the terminal facilities if needed.

Air NZ vomit bags. Spewing in any language permitted!

Still not sure why I was given one of these... funny though, and I think I'll send it to a young lass in the UK. She'll like it!

Air NZ kid's entertainment. There were coloured pencils also.
After the non-flight, we exited the aircraft and headed back into the terminal. These two photos came out quite well, since it was my phone camera and hand held.

ATR-GIE ATR72-600, ZK-MVH, operated by Mount Cook Airline/ Air NZ
All-in-all, a fun evening, and a good chance to sit on a plane and talk plane talk with fellow aviators. Not something you get to do every day!!


Anonymous said...

It's more to do with the potential to tip over backwards, than weak undercarriage.

Anonymous said...

What a great experience for you and thanks for the in-depth background story.
I never knew the ATR is only used for push-backs in WLG.
Clearly CHC will follow if successful.
Yes you have the correct company in Oregan, US in your link.
The specific model on trial is from the 88 series.
A bit more torque and they will be able to cope with the 2° incline and hopefully a good Wellington Southerly on the tail!
Hopefully your readers here will already know the dangers and would never pull out a device and snap off photos during normal a boarding as this was a very special controlled case with no actual aircraft movements nearby :)

Rodney said...

Anon #1 - thanks for that. The post could have been clearer. One of the tech guys was talking a bit about limits on the pressure that could be applied to the undercarriage, and I didn't recall anything else. I've updated the post to try and reflect your comments. Thanks!

Anon #2 - I'm not sure that they've started using it for real in Wellington, but I guess it's not far away. I'm not sure if I have this right, but I think I heard there's a limit of 4 or 5 degrees slope, so no probs there. Hopefully readers do as they are told by ground staff during normal ops [no using devices during on the apron]... we were not told it was forbidden in this situation, but maybe a bit cheeky of me... I certainly made sure nothing else was happening though for those two photos :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, other NZ Aviation web sights show numerous photos taken airside by airline employees etc... I just hope they don't have an encounter with an ATR or Dash 8 while doing so. I think CAA should start revoking some these people's AIC.

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