Virgin Atlantic turns to Rushlift and Hird to take “major step forward” in aircraft maintenance lifting

Virgin Atlantic Airways says it has brought lifting and crane use for aircraft maintenance into the 21st Century by working with Hird to create a unique Manitex Valla crane for its hangar at Gatwick Airport.

The airline says the acquisition of the Valla Manitex 1725 48ES 22-tonne DC electric crane significantly improves its aircraft maintenance capability, and makes a big contribution to the sustainability of its operations.

Virgin Atlantic now plans to work with its aviation suppliers to obtain approval to use the crane to change engines on its aircraft, which will be the first time a mobile crane has been used to complete such a task anywhere in the world.

Hirdis the approved UK and Ireland distributor for Italian industrial crane manufacturer Manitex Valla.

Aviation ground support equipment specialist Rushlift approached Hird to supply the crane, as part of its equipment supply and maintenance service for Virgin Atlantic at Gatwick Airport and Heathrow Airport.

Carl Cooper, Sales and After-sales Manager for Hird, said: “We are delighted to have worked with Rushlift and Virgin Atlantic on what could be a ground-breaking project for passenger aircraft maintenance, and one which demonstrates the wide range of capabilities of Manitex Valla industrial cranes.”

Andy Currey, Tooling and Ground Support Equipment Manager at Virgin Atlantic, said: “Working with Hird to develop the specification and deliver this crane for us represents a major step forward in lifting applications.

“Craning and lifting in aircraft maintenance environments is challenging, because of the high value consequences of failure, and the procedures and regulations put in place as a result.

“Having this Manitex Valla crane has enabled us to move into the 21st Century in terms of our use of cranes to deliver key maintenance tasks. It is a brilliant addition to our equipment portfolio.

“Health and safety is our number one priority and it will help us complete lifting tasks with significantly less manual handling. As an electric crane it has zero emissions and is low noise, so is a green solution, which is good for our staff and the environment.

“The crane also allows us to complete many tasks faster, more easily, with greater confidence. We have only just taken delivery, so we’re only beginning to realise its full potential.”

Hird has worked closely with Manitex Valla to develop the crane which has capabilities unique to Virgin Atlantic’s needs. Its boom can slew through 360 degrees continuous, it has a maximum lifting capacity of 22 tonnes, a working height of 15.5 metres, and a reach of 13.5 metres.

The crane has fully-blocked and short-blocked duties, in both free on wheels and pick and carry modes.

It is already been used for a range of lifting tasks at the Gatwick hangar, going forward will include changing engine reverse thrusters, engine and aircraft nose cones, radar units, tail rudders and ailerons.

However, Virgin Atlantic stipulated capabilities that would also allow it to change engines. The task is currently carried out using an industry standard ‘bootstrap’ system, where a winch and sling system lowers the engine into a stand.

Using this method an engine, which can weigh up to 6.5 tonnes, can be changed in 12 hours using up to six people, all involved in a significant amount of manual handling.

Andy Currey believes that, by using the Manitex Valla crane, they can complete the task in six hours with no more than four personnel and minimal manual handling.

He added: “The bootstrap system is the industry standard. The only alternative is to use an overhead crane, a system we have available at our Heathrow hub, but which cannot be installed at Gatwick.

“We are confident we can make a case with aircraft and engine manufacturers to allow us to use the Manitex Valla crane to carry out engine changes. It will definitely be a world first. We will be leading the way in what I believe, in five years’ time will be an industry standard for changing engines.

“The benefits in terms of safety, speed, cost reduction, and the additional performance capabilities you get from having a crane like this Manitex Valla in an aircraft maintenance equipment portfolio will be compelling.”

Andy Currey added: “Our Gatwick hangar has limited space and because of the complex tasks we carry out, I needed a crane that could deliver fixed point lifting with slewing capability.”
“We looked at hybrid diesel-electric cranes but they were too bulky for the confined space we operate in. We needed something simple for our aircraft engineers to use. The answer was an all-electric crane.

“Hird immediately understood what we needed and have worked very hard with us on the brief. They are passionate about what they do and I feel fully confident in the relationship going forward.

“Our engineers are really happy with the Manitex Valla. It’s easy to use, it’s a precision tool, it’s quiet, and it’s non-polluting. It also has all the latest COBO 3B6 digital load control systems, so we know precisely what weight we’re lifting and how it needs to be managed safely.”

Contact Hird on 01482 227333 or [email protected].