It’s All Relative

To most people, airplanes are probably this huge complicated structure that you don’t truly understand how it works, but somehow it just does. I’m sure most people know that wings generate lift, and aircraft use hydraulic power to move control surfaces – these random basic facts – but to be able to connect all these facts together is really something else.

When I first started working here, I was fascinated by just the opportunity to stand on the ground next to airplanes every day. But after being here for a year and a half, you come to realize – planes really aren’t that big after all. Once you start to understand it inside out, and you know exactly where to find something that you’re looking for, its not quite as intimidating. Although, still fascinating.

Our company used to handle only A330 aircraft by ourselves, and the A320s were handled by a third party company. Recently, they decided to arrange the A320s for self-handling as well, so I finally had the chance to physically be next to this family of airplanes. Maybe it’s because I’m used to the A330, or maybe it’s because the A320 is really quite small, but when you stand there in front of full-sized A320, it seems so tiny.

It’s immediately noticeable. The belly of the aircraft is so low that you can’t actually walk under it standing straight up without bumping your head, unlike the A330. I can rest my hip on the nose wheel of the A330, but the nose wheel of the A320 only goes up to a bit above my knees. The airbridge that they connect to the aircraft has stairs on the side which we (maintenance/ground personnel) use to access the aircraft – those stairs are not nearly as steep as usual.

A320s are so small that they don’t even have fixed cargo compartments. All baggage is handled manually and placed on the aircraft one by one.

Compare this to the A330, where all the suitcases/cargo are pre-packaged in compartments, and each compartment is loaded onto the plane. You actually need a cargo loader to load these items; the belt loader is not enough.

The A330 and A320 are very similar aircraft. Well, obviously. They’re both designed by Airbus and they purposely based the design off each other so that they wouldn’t have to re-design many of the systems. But at the same time, not everything can be simply ‘scaled bigger’. Perhaps the mechanical parts can be scaled in that way (for example, the overall shape of the aircraft), but when it comes to the electrical components (computers, wires, etc), it doesn’t work that way. Both aircraft would still need the same computer which occupies the same amount of space, even if the A320 is smaller.

As you walk around the A320, you also notice these things. On the A330, there is enough space to put all the avionic computers together in one large compartment underneath the cockpit. With the smaller A320, there are multiple avionic compartments spread out around the plane, because a scaled-down A330 just doesn’t offer enough space for all the necessary computers to fit in one area.

The refuelling panel works in the same manner, but certainly looks a bit different on the A320. With the A330, it depends on how much load is already on the aircraft; if it’s not heavy enough, there is a chance that I won’t be able to reach it. On the A320, there is no chance of not being able to reach it.

A320 refuelling panel:

A330 refuelling panel:

I love how small things like this can give me so much satisfaction.
I love the fact that there is so much I don’t know and there’s always more to learn.

I love being here. And I pray that there will never be a day that I don’t love what I do.

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