Airline crews battle rattlesnakes squatting in grounded aircraft fleet
The long-term storage of Qantas aircraft in California’s Mojave Desert is presenting engineers with new, unexpected dangers: Rattlesnakes and scorpions have invaded the fleet, nesting in wheels and tires.
According to an update Thursday in the Qantas News Room, protecting aircraft from invading animals like birds and insects is nothing new for engineers. But the burgeoning rattlesnake season in California has created a unique problem, forcing engineers to add “a new pre-inspection procedure” to their typical maintenance routines.
The fleet, which is in “deep storage” until air traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels, is stored in Victorville, California, in the Mojave Desert because of the high heat and low humidity. Unfortunately, these conditions are also conducive to desert pests such as rattlesnakes and scorpions.
Tim Heywood, Qantas manager of engineering in Los Angeles, commented to the Qantas News Room on the issue, “The area is known for its feisty ‘rattlesnakes’ that like to coil around the warm rubber [of tires]and in aircraft wheels and brakes.” He added that each aircraft is now equipped with a “wheel whacker” – which is really just a “repurposed broom handle” – to scare away any reptile or arachnid squatters.
“The first thing we do before we unpack the landing gear and begin the ground inspection … Is we walk around the aircraft, stomping our feet and tapping the wheels with the wheel beater to wake up the snakes and scare them away. That way, we make sure that neither our engineers nor the snakes are harmed,” Heywood explains. “Only then do we carefully approach each wheel and unwrap it before performing our pressure tests and visual inspections.”
He told the Qantas News Room that they “have come across a few rattlesnakes and some scorpions as well, but the wheel knocker does its job and they scurry away.”
While rattlesnakes and scorpions have always been a part of the desert landscape, they have only taken up residence in A380s since the pandemic began. According to Heywood, the situation is just “another sign of how strange the past year has been.” Normally, “these A380s would rarely spend more than a day on the ground when they are in service,” making their long-term stay in the desert rather unusual. Like them. This is a brief summary.