Life Travel Snakes on a plane – big problem with grounded Qantas A380s
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Snakes on a plane – big problem with grounded Qantas A380s

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One of the grounded A380s – named Nancy Bird Walton – and its "wheel whacker". Photo: Qantas
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Qantas engineers maintaining grounded A380 aircraft in the California desert have a new task on their job descriptions – snake removal.

The giant passenger planes, in deep storage in the Mojave Desert until international travel resumes, are providing new homes for local populations of rattlesnakes and scorpions.

The highly venomous creatures have been found in the wheel wells of the aircraft, which still require maintenance despite being parked at the site in Victorville, two hours from Los Angeles.

“The area is well known for its feisty ‘rattlers’ who love to curl up around the warm rubber tyres and in the aircraft wheels and brakes,” said Tim Heywood, Qantas manager for engineering in Los Angeles.

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Another A380, this one known as Paul McGinness, gets work done on its gears. Photo: Qantas

In “another sign of how strange the past year has been”, he said every aircraft had a designated “wheel whacker” (a repurposed broom handle) as part of the engineering kit, complete with each aircraft’s registration written on it.

“The first thing we do before we unwrap and start any ground inspections of the landing gear, in particular, is to walk around the aircraft stomping our feet and tapping the wheels with a wheel whacker to wake up and scare off the snakes,” he said.

“We’ve encountered a few rattlesnakes and also some scorpions, but the wheel whacker does its job and they scuttle off.”

The A380s, which under normal circumstances would rarely spend more than a day on the ground, still require considerable maintenance during their downtime.

Besides the inspection of the landing gear, the upkeep involves covering seats with plastic sheeting; applying protective film to the rudder, cabin windows, wheels, tyres and landing gear legs; and plugging inlets on the fuselage to avoid insects, birds and bats making nests.

Built at a former airforce base, the Southern California Logistics Airport boasts clear skies and low humidity, making it an ideal holding yard for Qantas’s A380 fleet, as well as aircraft from other airlines around the world.