To make the concept of an inflatable hangar fly, first you've got to make sure the structure itself does not fly away.

Jose Antonio Sanz insists his company's inflatable structures can cope with winds of 100 kph (62 mph), even 150 kph (93 mph). “We're talking to a customer who will require 180 kph,” protection, says Barcelona-based Buildair's commercial director.

A telematic control system, coupled with multiple 20-cm (7.87-in.) screws drilled into the tarmac, is essential to a structure's stability.

Telematic controls incorporate anemometers that constantly measure wind speed. When winds whip up, the system's motors pump more air into the semi-circular inflatable tubes that comprise the hangar. At the same time, “You receive an alarm on your smartphone, computer or iPad.”

So far, Sanz says Buildair has sold two inflatable hangars to the MRO industry—one to LAN Airlines and the other to EADS-Cassidian. The former is an H-38, with 38 meters (124.67 ft.) of clear width. It can handle Boeing 737 or Airbus A320-family aircraft. The latter is an H-54, with 54 meters of clear width. It is capable of accommodating an A310. Buildair is talking with a customer about fabricating an inflatable hangar with 75 meters of clear width, one that would provide enough room for an Airbus A330 or a Boeing 767, 777 or 747.

“The really [difficult] dimension is the width,” says Sanz. “It is very difficult to build a large-width structure.”

So far, Sanz says both LAN and EADS-Cassidian are happy with their hangars. Among the attributes he pitches to prospective customers are:

•Price. Sanz contends the inflatable hangar can cost about one-sixth of a standard metal structure.

•Portability. A hangar ships via standard 20 X 40-ft. sea containers, or it can be palletized for air transport. He says it took EADS-Cassidian seven days to deploy, fix and inflate its H-54.

•Environmental advantages. Sanz says fabrication entails “no waste”—no chemicals or contaminant metals. The inflation motors do not demand a lot of energy either.

•Minimum scheduled maintenance. Every six months is the plan. Should something bad befall the inflatable tubes, Sanz says one or two can be “inoperative” and the hangar will still support the load. There would be no need to repair or change the tubes until the next regularly scheduled maintenance event.

While Buildair's product offers some advantages, longevity is not one of them. Traditional metal hangars last 20 years and longer. Sanz says none of the company's hangars have reached their service life, but that life “will be six to 10 years” or more, depending on proper maintenance, and just what it has to weather.

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