[Newsphopick=Kingsley Lim] Tourism has been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, travel demand has fallen off a cliff, causing commercial airlines to ground their planes, and store them in remote locations across the globe.
Recently, Australia’s national carrier, Qantas, made the painful decision to decommission its last Boeing 747 plane – it sent the plane on its final flight to its last destination in the Mojave Desert in California.
In detail report, the fleet of planes, which had been sent to Mojave Desert, had carried more than 250 million passengers for fifty years. Notable passengers include Queen Elizabeth II and every Australian Olympic team since 1984. As part of efforts to streamline costs, Qantas also announced that it will be storing its fleet of A380 super jumbos in Mojave Desert for at least two years till 2023.
According to Qantas, it had originally planned to retire these planes in six months, but brought forward the date as the virus had “decimated international travel globally”.
Majority of sources, airlines across the globe have been forced to ground their planes due to the fall in travel demand. Not knowing when the pandemic will pass, a number of commercial airlines have chosen to store their fleets in a handful of storage facilities across the world – sometimes, these planes are sent to locations as remote as Mojave Desert, where these storage facilities are located.
These storage yards are also known as “boneyards”. Planes that are stored here may at some point return to service. However, for many planes, these storage facilities are the final resting ground, before being broken up and sold.
Due to the remote locations of these storage yards, commercial airlines find it cheaper to park their aircraft here than in an airport. Typically, the cost of storing a single plane for a month is US $5,000 in a “long-term storage programme”.
These remote locations are usually found in vast areas of desert around the world. Some of the more popular storage locations include Alice Springs in Australia and the Mojave Desert in eastern California. Other popular locations are Roswell in New Mexico and Marana in Arizona.
"Deserts offer two key components: large areas of open flat land, and climate that slows the corrosion of metal parts," said Mr Petchenik. “The low humidity along with low aerosol and air particulates in these parts help store aeroplanes for a long time,” suggested Mr Petchenik, as he spoke about the advantages of storing these planes in dry, arid conditions.
Former journalist and author, Joe Sharkey remembers traveling to a CIA airbase which was converted into an airplane storage facility in Arizona. "It was somewhat a disconcerting sight to see shiny tails of many commercial airliners glinting in the sun in the distance. All the planes have sealed off windows and engines," said Mr Sharkey.
With 7.5 million flights cancelled during the first half of the year, and a total cumulative loss of US$84 billion suffered by the airline industry, experts are watching the situation closely in the worse crisis since the Great Financial Crisis in 2009.