Dusting off the desert sand

Like the proverbial Phoenix rising from the ashes, so too the commercial aircraft are rising from their desert storage sites and returning to the skies. With the 2008-2009 global economic crisis resulting in a tumultuous decline in cargo and passenger demand, airlines desperately looked for places to park their aircraft that would keep their expensive assets dry and free of corrosion. Karen E. Thuermer has the story from the deserts of California and Arizona.

The need to cut the dangerouslevels of excess capacity drovevirtually every carrier in the worldto ground and park at least some of theiraircraft – particularly on the cargo side ofthe business – at a rate not seen since the911 attacks, and in fact surpassing those figures to set new records. At the heightof the recession in April 2009, reportsindicated that the number of aircraft instorage totaled 2,302 an increase of 29per cent over 2008 counts. London-basedaviation consulting firm, Ascend Worldwide,estimates that nearly 1,200 aircraftworldwide were grounded last year.

A fair number of older, less fuel efficient aircraft like the B747-200 and-300s, DC-9/10s were also parked priorto the economic crisis, as oil prices hitrecord highs in 2008 and made theseaircraft uneconomical to fly. The realrush to the desert began from Octobe r2008 when, in the case of SouthernCalifornia Logistics Airport, betterknown as Victorville Airport, some 100aircraft parked in the desert sand became150 and then 200 and the number just kept growing.

Even in March 2009, months beforeany positive signs of a recovery were evenremotely perceptible, Victorville was already counting over 200 aircraft sitting on the compacted desert sand, a number that only a couple of months later was approaching the maximum capacity of the three commerical storage facilities at the airport of 300 aircraft. This made Victorville more crowded at times than Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). But along with SCLA, Mojave Air and Space Port (Mojave Airport) also in California and Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona encompassed three of the busiest transitional parking lots in the US for idled planes during the economic downturn.