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Among commercial cleaning jobs, cleaning aircraft is surely one of the most unusual. It is performed not only under tight deadlines between flights, but also in tight quarters. There's little room for error, and no room for maneuvering cumbersome equipment.


Although the original backpack vacuum was designed specifically for more conventional applications, it turns out to be ideally suited to cope with the narrow aisles and cramped under-seat areas of aircraft.

"Backpack vacs are lightweight, have good suction, and are very efficient," says Michael Pulli, Manager of Contract Administration for OneSource, one of the largest service and maintenance companies in the world. The OneSource Aviation Division is one of the largest companies servicing aircraft and airports in the world.

"Backpack vacuums are versatile. The floor tools move easily between seat tracks and under aircraft seats, and the units are quiet," Pulli continues. "They do an excellent job for us."

The OneSource Aviation Division is a full-service operation for ground-handling, cargo and ticketing functions, and cleaning, including hangars, offices, terminals, and aircraft. This division cleans aircraft in both the U.S. and Europe, including locations such as O'Hare, JFK, and Atlanta International airports.

"Cleaning is choreographed," Pulli emphasizes. A four-person cleaning team descends on the space: one specialist for the lavatories, one for galleys, and one vacuuming/detail specialist works from forward to the rear while another works from rear to forward, meeting in the middle. Such focused specialization increases cleaning efficiency, Pulli says.


Pulli says that when his company tested the backpack unit they "liked that it was small and light. It moved easier, and the vacuum operator was in full control."

In cleaning aircraft, Pulli says, "we follow the exact specifications of each airline." Details include placing emergency cards and literature in seat pockets, crossing seat belts neatly across seats, folding blankets, placing pillows in specified compartments, and vacuuming the floors.

While airlines sometimes provide their own equipment, OneSource prefers to use backpacks extensively in three of its locations, including Little Rock. "Before the backpack vac, we used a bullet tank-type model. It was difficult to drag down the aisle of the aircraft," Pulli says. The bullet would catch on seat tracks, slowing the workers down.

Les Payne, Manager of OneSource operations in Little Rock, who oversees a staff of 21, concurs. With a backpack, he says, "we get more done in less time. It does the job as well or better than conventional vacs and can be used on hard flooring as well as on indoor/outdoor carpeting," he says. "Our workers like the portability of the backpack. They just strap it on. It's easier to use since they don't have to drag it," Payne reports.

"Backpacks do a good job. I know because I inspect each plane after it has been cleaned," confides the 32-year veteran airport worker, who was a ticket agent and ramp agent for 25 years before joining OneSource. Payne's crews clean 737s, 727s, and DC-9s for TWA and Southwest Airlines at Little Rock Regional Airport.

Since the favorable experience in cleaning aircraft with backpack vacuums, OneSource has adopted backpacks for additional uses in the company's worldwide Building Maintenance Division. For example, in airport concourses and other buildings, he explains, "Day Porters on call use a backpack to tidy up dry material spills, such as debris from planters and accidental ashtray dumps."


Besides on-the-ground aircraft cleaning between flights, OneSource also provides overnight aircraft cleaning in many locations. Overnight cleaning is more extensive, Pulli says, requiring about 8 to 10 personnel hours. In other words, a team of four cleans a 727 in 2.5 hours or the slightly smaller MD-80 in 2 hours. Pulli says that the backpack vac is used for overnight cleaning, too. Its portability and maneuverability make it the machine of choice. After each overnight cleaning, Pulli says, the flight crew is given a quality control postcard checklist so OneSource can receive customer feedback on the work it is performing for airlines.

Like the work of flying aircraft, the work of cleaning them is demanding, rewarding for those who make the grade, and no place to wing it.

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This article was published on Monday 07 July, 2008.
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