Wednesday, August 4

I went inside one of the US’ largest aircraft storage facilities and saw how it isn’t emptying out despite the rise in air travel


It’s an exciting time for airlines that are finally seeing profits again after a long pandemic. But the future wasn’t always this bright.

Flying home from Bogota, Colombia on American Airlines.

Thomas Pallini/Insider


Last year, most airlines around the world began the process of putting their aircraft into indefinite storage at facilities around the world, many of which in the American Southwest.

Grounded airliners COVID-19


Andy Luten/Andy’s Travel Blog


But even with US airlines taking back a lot of their stored planes, some facilities remain as crowded as they were at the beginning of the pandemic. Here’s why.

Aerial view of Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona

Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona.

Ramon Purcell/Boneyard Safari


Ascent Aviation Services boasts the largest storage and maintenance facilities at Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona, roughly 90 miles south of Phoenix. At its peak, the firm received 400 aircraft between its Marana and Tucson, Arizona facilities, arriving at a rate of one per hour starting in March.

Aerial view of Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona

Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona.

Ramon Purcell/Boneyard Safari


“80% of all the stored aircraft worldwide are stored in the Southwest,” Scott Butler, Ascent’s chief commercial officer, told Insider.

A stored aircraft in Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona

Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona.

Ascent Aviation Services


American storage facilities boast highly skilled mechanics and a better business environment in which to conduct transactions. The American Southwest, in addition, offers a dry and arid climate ideal for storage and preservation.

A stored aircraft in Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona

Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona.

Ascent Aviation Services


Before the pandemic, Ascent’s stock and trade was in providing maintenance, repair, and overhaul services to airlines, with as much as 70% of its revenue coming from that division. But with aircraft usage dropping and demand for storage rising, a majority of the revenue then came from storage fees during the pandemic.

An aircraft in maintenance Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona — Pinal Airpark Tour 2021

Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona.

Thomas Pallini/Insider


Air Canada and WestJet aircraft could be seen around the airfield, and still make up a large chunk of the population. At the time of our visit, Canada still required a two-week quarantine for international arrivals, making once-lucrative routes south of the border to the US, Caribbean, and Central America nearly worthless for Canada’s airlines.

Grounded airliners COVID-19


Andy Luten/Andy’s Travel Blog


Butler said the engines are the most important part of an aircraft that needs to be secured, or “pickled.” “That’s the main money on the entire asset is the engine,” Butler said.

A stored aircraft in Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona

Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona.

Ascent Aviation Services


And in the desert, rattlesnakes are always a worry. Maintenance workers services Australian airline Qantas’ stored planes in California had to determine protocols for removing rattlesnakes.

A stored aircraft in Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona — Pinal Airpark Tour 2021

Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona.

Thomas Pallini/Insider


Source: Qantas

Reactivating aircraft can then take anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the size of the aircraft and what type of work needs to be done before it can fly passengers again. Some aircraft may need complex maintenance checks and others might need minor fixes.

A stored aircraft in Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona — Pinal Airpark Tour 2021

Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona.

Thomas Pallini/Insider


Aircraft components have maintenance manuals and processes to restore them and extend their life beyond just one aircraft. This Airbus A330 cockpit had been stripped dry of all its valuable parts.

An aircraft in reclamation Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona — Pinal Airpark Tour 2021

An aircraft in reclamation Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona.

Thomas Pallini/Insider


Inside this Airbus A330, for example, most of the seats remain intact.

An aircraft in reclamation Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona — Pinal Airpark Tour 2021

An aircraft in reclamation Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona.

Thomas Pallini/Insider




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