Aircraft MRO Considerations: Southern Africa's Climates

Could the area you plan to base an aircraft lead to increased maintenance costs? What threats do different Southern African environments pose to your aircraft, and what steps can you take to minimize these? Sherryn de Vos speaks to ExecuJet’s Vince Goncalves…

Sherryn de Vos  |  29th June 2022
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    Sherryn de Vos
    Sherryn de Vos

    Sherryn de Vos is a content specialist at AOM Digital, a digital marketing agency whose primary client...

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    An airplane mechanic undertakes a borescope inspection

    The region that you’re based in may not be the first consideration when buying an aircraft. But maintenance of your aircraft should be a vital consideration at the time of purchase, including where it will be primarily stored and operated from. 

    Interestingly, maintenance needs differ depending on the region that the aircraft is based at, or operated in. Let’s take a closer look at buying and operating an aircraft in Southern Africa’s unique and differing climates.

    This vast terrain offers varied climates, weather systems and terrains. From the coastal, humid region of Kwa-Zulu Natal, to the dusty plains of Namibia, you’ll need to plan for different types of maintenance.

    Whether it's salty coastal air, the harsh African sunlight, wind, heat, or higher air pressure – all have an effect on the general degradation of your aircraft. So how can aircraft owners anticipate and establish the right support for their maintenance needs in Southern Africa’s different regions?

    Coastal Environments

    Moisture in the air poses one of the greatest risks of corrosion occurring on your aircraft, so if at all possible store and operate your aircraft in a dry climate wherever possible.

    Regions across the coast like Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Cape region and all the way up the Western coastline are known for their salt air.

    The more an aircraft is exposed to saline air, the higher the risk of corrosion occurring on the aircraft.

    In fact, buyers can be hesitant to purchase an aircraft that has been used in coastal regions and will usually be keen for a thorough inspection of the aircraft prior to purchase. “Maintenance on an aircraft based [in coastal regions] for long periods will always include saltwater corrosion,” according to Vince Goncalves, Regional Vice President for Africa at ExecuJet MRO Services.

    Comprehensive maintenance will be required where parts identified with corrosion will need to be removed for detailed inspection, he explains. This may include the removal of corrosion, non-destructive testing, or sampling, re-measuring, and, if necessary OEM involvement and approval.

    Tips for Owners in Coastal Environments

    The following tips can help owners and operators based in coastal regions minimize the impact of corrosion-based maintenance:

    • Use a corrosion inhibitor. This is recommended for external components if you’re operating in a harsh environment or if you see signs of corrosion on the engine. Corrosion Inhibitors are particularly important for magnesium components, which are more prone to corrosion than aluminum.
    • Undertake regular borescope inspections. Check your observations against the engine maintenance manual, and keep records of previous inspections so you can monitor the progression, or lack thereof, of corrosion.
    • Wash the engine interior. The more salt there is in the operating environment, the more often washes will be required. In salt-laden environments, the most frequent wash should be a turbine rinse. A compressor desalination wash should also be performed periodically, and should always be followed by a turbine rinse.
    • Wash the exterior. During an internal wash, dirt flushed out of the engine may splash and stick to the airplane’s exterior. An external wash will remove this, plus any other corrosives that were already present. A regular hose with normal pressure should be used rather than a pressure washer, which could damage external paint/parts.
    Namibia's desert meets ocean - a potentially expensive maintenance cocktail for aircraft owners and operators


    Dusty Environments

    Sand and dust from arid regions is problematic for aircraft gas turbine engines, so regions around Namibia, the sub-Saharan desert and the drier stretches of Africa more generally will pose maintenance threats to aircraft that are being stored there, or frequent those regions.

    Sand and dust can cause a variety of damage to mechanisms, some of which accelerate the loss of engine efficiency, eventually resulting in:

    • Increased fuel burn
    • Significant reduction in component life
    • Early (and expensive) removal of engines for repair.

    The primary damage mechanisms affecting performance are erosion in high-speed compressors and deposit build-up on turbine aerofoils.

    In comparison to the impacts of ocean and high humidity areas, dust and sand admittedly prove a lower maintenance risk to aircraft.

    “The harshest environments for aircraft to be continually exposed to from a maintenance perspective is most definitely the sea level ocean air, as well as cold, icy and wet areas,” Goncalves shares. “All of this continued exposure attracts corrosive elements to the aircraft and results in damage.

    “We see the highest maintenance costs coming from aircraft that are primarily based in salt water and continuous wet weather conditions, compared to dust and sand.”

    Hotter Environments

    Based on the fact that Southern Africa is a notoriously hotter region compared to certain areas in Europe and the US, it’s important to note that while temperature can play a role in how fast corrosion spreads, it cannot directly cause corrosion.

    Rising temperatures can speed up electrochemical attacks, for example, and increase the damage caused by this form of corrosion – especially if the climate is both hot and humid. 

    But, Goncalves explains that the Southern African temperatures are not necessarily a key maintenance consideration.

    “Weather in Africa is not the harshest aircraft owners and operators can experience,” he says. 

    “Yes, there are conditions that are not ideal for aircraft, but one must remember that aircraft are designed to operate and be left outside come rain, wind, or sun.”

    In fact, he adds, Southern Africa is more temperate and easier on aircraft MRO needs than further North on the continent. 

    “In my opinion, northern coastal regions of Africa are the most susceptible to adverse weather conditions that may have a negative effect on aircraft surfaces, parts and components.”

    The Bottom Line 

    Essentially, no matter where you are in the world, the maintenance of your aircraft will need to be a key consideration. If you are based primarily in a coastal area, or other saline environments, however, you are going to need to budget for higher costs, ensure that your undertake regular ‘preventative maintenance’ as outlined above, in order to maintain longer-lasting life-cycles.

    Find aircraft for sale at AvBuyer Africa

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