The skies are eerily empty these days, presenting a new challenge for the world’s embattled airlines as they work to safeguard thousands of grounded planes parked wingtip to wingtip on runways and in storage facilities.
More than 16,000 passenger jets are grounded worldwide, according to industry researcher Cirium, as the coronavirus obliterates travel and puts unprecedented strain on airline finances. Finding the right space and conditions for 62% of the world’s planes and keeping them airworthy have suddenly become priorities for 2020.
While this was the case, an increasing number of major airlines are flying planes to a Gloucestershire airport to save on storage fees during the pandemic.
Storage and parts company says it has seen enquiries from airlines wanting to park planes increase by “several hundred percent”.
The company’s chief executive told Sky News that airlines are saving on costs by storing planes away from hub airports.
He said: “When the outbreak first began, we were receiving quite a surge of initially leasing companies, then airlines, looking to store aeroplanes for longer lengths of time. I’d say enquiries are up several hundred percent.”
Sky News visited the airport two days after a plane from Italy arrived for storage.
Three British Airways planes, including two 747s, arrived at the airport in April.
The company usually deals with 40 to 50 planes arriving each year – mainly to be broken down for parts.
During the virus outbreak, the business has become almost entirely focused on storage, as the industry fights for its very survival.
With the majority of planes grounded, the parts business has collapsed.
The Chief Executive added, “We’ve seen the number of enquiries fall by about 90% for component and piece parts.
“There have been a few interesting enquiries for planes that are still in maintenance – so the more obscure parts are still being requested but the more routine parts that airlines change on a daily basis just aren’t being purchased because there just aren’t as many planes flying.”
A number of airlines, including BA and Ryanair, have announced plans for redundancies and Professor Andrew Grave, an aerospace analyst at the University of Bath, believes the sector may never return to pre-pandemic levels.
He said: “We have over 800 airlines in the world. It’s always been a very difficult industry to run profitably. The best predictions we have at the moment is 400 to 500 may be bankrupt by June.”
He added: “A lot of those aircraft are leased, the leasing companies will want them back or some kind of recompense so it’s a massive challenge for the airlines, leasing companies and banks that support them.”
Aircraft can’t simply be dusted back into action. They need plenty of work and attention while in storage, from the maintenance of hydraulics and flight-control systems to protection against insects and wildlife — nesting birds can be a problem. Then there’s humidity, which can corrode parts and damage interiors. Even when parked on runways, planes are often loaded with fuel to keep them from rocking in the wind and to ensure tanks stay lubricated.
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