- Pinal Air Park in Arizona is best known for being an aircraft boneyard where ageing aircraft are stored and scrapped for parts.
- Iconic airliners from yesteryear including the Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9 line the taxiways and parking areas of the isolated airfield.
- Delta Air Lines, among others, are now turning to the airfield for storage as the novel coronavirus continues to reduce the demand for air travel and the need for wide-body aircraft.
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Ninety miles south of Phoenix is an airport located in the middle of the Arizona desert just off of an isolated strip of I-10. With only one runway and no passenger terminal, Pinal Air Park doesn’t see commercial airline service but it is home to some of the most iconic aircraft ever to roam the skies.
Known in the industry as an aircraft boneyard, Pinal Air Park is where aircraft are housed for long-term storage. In other words, it’s a retirement home of sorts for grounded airliners whose time has come as newer, younger planes take their place in airline fleets across the world.
At the airfield in Marana, Arizona, the skeletons of old workhorses, including some from airlines that do not exist anymore, can be found baking in the desert sun. While their time in the sky has long passed, their parts continue to prove useful to current sky-bound aircraft.
Though most aircraft that enter storage in Marana never take to the skies again, the COVID-19 crisis has given the town a slew of new arrivals that airlines hope will only be temporary visitors rather permanent residents.
Take a look at which aircraft some of the world’s airlines are sending to the Arizona desert to ride out the industry downturn caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona is one the many aircraft boneyards located in the American Southwest, a region known for its hot, dry climates that help preserve aircraft.
Most ageing aircraft that land on the isolated airfield’s single runway can expect to never touch the skies again as they prepare for the long sleep.
The aircraft of yesteryear can be found lining its parking spaces including the Boeing 747, McDonnell Douglas DC-9, and Lockheed L-1011.
For most arrivals, however, the job isn’t over as their parts continue to be valuable to aircraft still flying and aircraft operators are always in need of additional parts to maintain aircraft.
Though the scores of grounded aircraft may suggest otherwise, the businesses located at the airport largely help keep the aviation industry going by providing spare parts and maintenance services.
Some aircraft are even sent to Marana for interior refurbishment so they can have the appearance of being brand-new once more.
NASA even keeps its famed Space Shuttle-carrying Boeing 747 there when it is not transporting the spacecraft.
The reduction in demand for long-haul air travel around the world in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus has lead global airlines to send their planes to Marana for storage where they will ride out the downturn in the desert sun rather than the cold.
Delta Air Lines is chief among the airlines using Marana for storage, with FlightAware data showing 23 arrivals as of Thursday, sending its wide-body jets including the Boeing 767…
And Boeing 777 to the desert for safekeeping rather than keeping the aircraft in hub cities, a majority of which are located in colder climates. The airline publically stated that it will be grounding over 600 aircraft, and declined to get more specific when asked for comment.
The aircraft have no set check-out as it is still unsure when the industry will rebound but they will be in good company as Marana is a favourite of Delta’s, with the airline retiring its Boeing 747-400 there in 2018.
Most of the aircraft will be among old friends as the airfield houses aircraft from the now-defunct Northwest Airlines, with which Delta merged in the late 2000s and whose former aircraft it still flies.
One of Delta’s newest wide-body aircraft, the Airbus A350-900 XWB, hasn’t been scheduled to head to Marana, with FlightAware data showing four of its A350s heading for Blytheville, Arkansas for storage.
Delta is also planning to send its McDonnell Douglas fleet to Arkansas for storage with at least seven planes scheduled inbound on Thursday, according to FlightAware data, with the type possibly being retired early due to the crisis.
Delta isn’t the only airline sending its wide-bodies to Arizona as FlightAware data shows an Aer Lingus Airbus A330 flew in from Dublin via Bangor, Maine on Monday.
The Irish flag carrier’s parent company, the International Airlines Group, announced a reduction in capacity for all subsidiaries that will affect Aer Lingus, which just completed a rebranding effort in February.
Air Canada also sent one of its Boeing 737 Max aircraft from Montreal to Marana, a more forgiving temporary home than wintry Quebec, on Monday.
The Max flight was likely unrelated to the current crisis as many airlines have been sending their Max aircraft to storage following its worldwide grounding in 2019, especially as Boeing maintained production of the flawed aircraft.
Pinal Air Park has been the recipient of most aircraft as a result of the downturn but other boneyards slated to receive new residents, albeit temporary, include Roswell International Air Centre in New Mexico.
FlightAware data shows an American Airlines Boeing 767-300ER headed to the New Mexican desert airport on Wednesday as the airline prepares to retire the type ahead of schedule by the end of May.
American also sent other heavy-hitters including the Boeing 777-200 on Thursday. The airline told Business Insider its aircraft will be sent to various locations around the country as it reduces long-haul flying to only a handful of key routes.
Just as Marana is a favourite for Delta, Roswell is a favourite for American as the world’s largest airline retired its McDonnell Douglas MD-80 fleet there in 2019.
United Airlines is also joining in on the trend, sending a Boeing 777-200 to Roswell on Wednesday as the airline greatly scales back on international flying. The airline didn’t respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Though it will be sometime before the new arrivals in Marana will take to the skies again as the COVID-19 crisis plays out, the aircraft are undoubtedly faring better than the town’s permanent residents.
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