If you want to take a look at global aviation, look out into the desert – namely into the US state of California. Mojave Airport is located there. The airfield, which has also been a take-off and landing site for space travel since 2004, is now one of the world’s largest parking lots for aircraft. Hundreds of discarded and dismantled machines stand peacefully side by side – venerable antiquities as well as ultra-modern jets. The Australian airline Qantas Airlines, for example, has parked its Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 fleets here.
The planes are waiting for aviation to take off again. The corona pandemic stopped and massively reduced air traffic worldwide. In the first weeks of the pandemic, 64 percent of the global fleet was idle. The consulting firm Cirium spoke of 17,000 decommissioned aircraft.
While passenger aviation is still a long way from recovering from the effects of the pandemic, Cargo could have reached pre-crisis volumes in just a few months, writes data service provider Clive Data Services. One factor is that due to the lack of passenger traffic, the entire belly capacity has been eliminated – a good two thirds of the air cargo is normally moved in the belly of the passenger aircraft.
Expensive parking spaces at the airports
The pandemic with the slump in passenger numbers has put the airlines under enormous pressure: At first, the machines were still parked in quiet parking areas at the airports. However, high daily and weekly rents were incurred. When it became clear that the pandemic would last longer, the airlines moved their machines to cheaper parking spaces, mostly in dry air with relatively even temperatures. Ideally in the desert.
There are such facilities on every continent – the largest car park in Europe is in Teruel, Spain. Machines park there on a 340 hectare area between Zaragoza and Valencia. “With around 240 days of sunshine a year and little rainfall, the region is particularly suitable for parking aircraft,” says Lufthansa.
Parking and storage mode
The airlines have two options for decommissioning aircraft: In “parking” mode, the aircraft remains technically fit – but this can only last three months. However, if the machine is not needed for a longer period of time, it is switched to the cheaper “Storage” mode.
The preparation for both types of decommissioning is extensive: all openings are sealed to prevent corrosion. That includes the inlets and nozzles of the engines, but also the passenger and cargo doors and all other openings in the fuselage, for example those of avionic sensors. This way, the airlines prevent dust from entering and birds or insects from nesting. “Depending on the climate zone, aircraft sealed in this way are ventilated once a week in” parking “mode via the cabin doors so that the interior does not get messed up,” explains Michael Lagemann from Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg.
Operating fluids are also withdrawn. In the case of “storage”, special long-term preservation is carried out on the engines, additional cockpit and passenger windows are masked against solar radiation and batteries are removed.
In “Parking” mode, the machines are checked regularly. Once a month, the aircraft’s engines start to check the aircraft’s bleed air and anti-icing systems. After three months of “parking”, the machines are moved once in the air. Thus, the aircraft can be put back into regular service within a single day.
More effort to wake up
Because the aircraft is left to its own devices in “storage” mode, reactivation is more time-consuming. In this case, a lot of the “care” that the aircraft would have received in normal operation. Also the aircraft in “parking” mode has to be made up for before it is put back into service.
It can only be brought back into active service from “storage” mode with significantly more extensive measures. It takes between two and three days to wake up a short- and medium-haul aircraft from “storage” mode.
“Where did the planes go? Airlines will park aircraft that are not required at Mojave Airport and other airports until the end of the corona pandemic. #DBSchenker #Airfreight“Tweet WhatsApp
Theoretically, the machines could remain at Mojave Airport for many years to come. There are maintenance services on site that also take care of the largest and most modern machines. And should the machines ever be finally decommissioned, then they can be scrapped and gutted in the aircraft graveyard. It is conveniently located on the airport grounds.