Airplanes Too Are Suffering Due to the Current Pandemic

Aircraft engineers and mechanics are keeping the world's grounded airplanes in tip top condition.
Marcia Wendorf

According to the website FlightAware, 80% of the world's commercial flights have been grounded by the COVID-19 virus. Major carriers such as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas have had to ground thousands of their jetliners.

A recent Bloomberg article stated that 16,000, or 62% of the world's airplanes are currently grounded.

Where are the airplanes?

In Europe, planes are parked at airports in Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna, and London. Across Asia, planes are parked at airports in Seoul, Hong Kong, and Delhi. Budget airline EasyJet has parked its airplanes at Southend Airport in Essex, England, while Emirates has parked their planes at the Dubai International Airport.

British Airways, who has suspended 96% of its scheduled flights, is storing its planes at the Glasgow Airport in Scotland, and the Bournemouth Airport in the south of England. Flight tracking website FlightRadar picked up many British Airways' 747 jumbo jets making the 20-minute journey from Heathrow Airport to Bournemouth.

Air France has parked its planes at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris, while Dutch carrier KLM announced that they are retiring their remaining fleet of Boeing 747s, which are currently parked at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport.

German airline Lufthansa is flying less than 10% of its 763 airplanes, with the remainder sitting at the Frankfurt Airport. Cathay Pacific Airways has canceled 96% of its flights, and its planes can be seen parked on taxiways and aprons at the Hong Kong International Airport.

In the U.S., airports in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Atlanta, Georgia, Phoenix, Arizona, Mobile, Alabama, San Antonio, Texas, and Birmingham, Alabama are all storing planes. However, it is America's Southwest that is hosting the largest number of planes.

Facilities such as the Pinal Airpark in Red Rock, Arizona, the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California, and the Roswell International Air Center in Roswell, New Mexico are all hosting hundreds of planes.

You can check out our video article about Victorville, California, home of one of the largest airplane parking lots in the world, and it is packed with unused airplanes (400, to be exact) for the time being.

Pinal County Airpark, which was originally a training facility for military pilots during the 1940s, is using its 500 acres to store wide-body aircraft. The airpark was already storing grounded Boeing 737 Max airplanes after that fleet was grounded last year.

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At the Roswell International Air Center, crews are adding 300 acres to the already existing 4,000 acres in order to accommodate up to 800 planes.

Which airlines' planes are where?

According to The Points Guy, American Airlines is storing a large number of of its wide-body planes at the Tulsa, Oklahoma airport, and at the Roswell, New Mexico airport. The wide-bodies sitting out the coronavirus include the Airbus A330-200, Airbus A330-300, Boeing 767-300, Boeing 777-300, Boeing 777-200, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.

Tulsa was a logical choice for American Airlines since the airline has a large maintenance facility there, however, American uses the Roswell airport as a boneyard for its retired planes. Right now, American Airlines' entire fleet of Boeing 767s, and some Airbus A330-300 planes, are parked at Roswell.

American Eagle has stashed 19 of its planes at Tucson's Marana Regional Airport. Airport Director Steve Miller told Fox News that, "At this point, no one has any idea how long they [the planes] are going to be here, but we are planning it could be a year, could be longer."

Delta Airlines, which flies the Airbus A330, Airbus A350, Boeing 767 and Boeing 777, is stashing its planes primarily at the Birmingham, Alabama, Marana, Arizona, Wilmington, Ohio and Victorville, California airports.

An outlier is United Airlines, which flies the Boeing 767-300, Boeing 767-400, Boeing 777-200, Boeing 777-300, Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, and the Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner. United isn't sending its planes to the desert, but rather it's parking over 400 of them at their hub airports which include Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, and Washington D.C.'s Dulles International Airport. An exception is United's Boeing 767-400 fleet which is being stored at Roswell.

In Europe, British Airways has parked six of their 12 Airbus A380 superjumbo aircraft at Chateauroux, France. KLM has parked over 200 of its aircraft at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

Finding space at Schiphol has turned into a giant game of Tetris, and one runway has been turned into an aircraft parking lot. In Australia, where the climate is already hot and dry, Qantas has stashed over 200 of its airplanes at airports around the country.

Over ten years ago, at Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory, a former vice president at Deutsche Bank created the Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS) facility. Today, they are in the process of expanding their capacity from 30 airplanes to 70, and planes from Singapore Airlines and Fiji Airways are sitting out the furlough there.

Airplanes require a lot of TLC

Airplanes require a lot of attention, and Mark Bleth, Deputy Director at the Roswell International Air Center told Fox News that, " takes 250 hours per plane to get it inducted into storage, that’s a lot of man-hours that has to be accomplished and then you have 7-day checks, 14-day checks, 30-day checks..."

Aircraft control surfaces, or avionics, must be looked after, intake openings on the fuselage must be covered because they can be tempting homes for nesting birds or insects. An aircraft's hydraulic systems contain fluids that must be drained, but a plane's fuel tanks must be kept partially filled in order to keep them lubricated and to add weight to the plane in windy areas.

Aircraft batteries need to be disconnected and reconnected every 14 days. Jet engine intake and exhaust areas must be covered, as do aircraft windows to protect them from the sun. Giant silica sachets similar to those included in pill bottles are placed inside jet engines to keep them dry.

To keep airplanes from rolling while parked, either their brakes have to be on, or else chocks have to be placed around their wheels. It can take between 10 and 12 chocks to fully immobilize an airplane.

Airplane tires need to be spun every one to two weeks to keep them from going flat. That means planes must be towed, taxied or jacked up and their wheels spun. To keep rust at bay, the landing gear itself must be lubricated with hydraulic fluid.

Airplanes Too Are Suffering Due to the Current Pandemic
Private jet, Source: guvendemir/iStock

At Salt Lake City's airport, private jets are looked after by Aircraft Services LLC, which takes care of over 20 Cessna Citation, Bombardier Challenger 300, Falcon 900 and Beechcraft King Air 200 aircraft.

These pampered planes are stored in their own heated hangars, and according to manager Jeff Hansen, planes grounded by the COVID-19 virus are placed in either short-term or long-term storage.

Planes in short-term storage have their engines started every 14 days, all their systems run, and they are taxied at high speed down a runway. Every 30 days, these planes are flown for 30 to 45 minutes.

According to Hansen, aircraft in long-term storage have their engine oil drained and replaced with a preservative oil, and within the hydraulic systems, nitrogen is pumped in to replace oxygen to lessen the chance of corrosion. All water systems are drained and flushed with air.

Several of Aircraft Services' aircraft engineers are graduates of a program at Salt Lake Community College that awards an Associates Degree as well as FAA Airframe and Powerplant licenses. The first license allows engineers to work on the aircraft itself, while the second allows them to work on its engines.

No one knows if, or how long it will be, before air transportation returns to normal. It's also unknown how long the economic ramifications of COVID-19 will continue to be felt. This directly affects people's ability to afford to fly.

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