Look at these planes.
Imagine this is a typical day of air traffic at the end of April 2019.
And this is what it looks like one year later.
In the middle of the COVID pandemic, the US has experienced a 71% decrease in the number of commercial flights, both domestic and international.
And a 92% decrease in the number of people screened at airports.
Less people are travelling and less planes are flying, but what is happening with all those aircrafts?
Where are they?
Notice to airmen, runway 21 is closed.
All personnel operating in the airport now are required to wear facemasks.
Let’s start from the beginning.
The Corona virus outbreak started in China at the end of last year, but it wasn’t until January 30th that the World Health Organization declared it a global health emergency.
February saw a fast spread of cases internationally.
And on March 13th, the president declared a US National Emergency.
By then the airline industry knew things had changed between travel restrictions, social distancing recommendations, and stay at home orders.
Air travel saw a roughly 95% decrease in the volume of passengers between February and April.
Travelers were posting photos of empty planes on social media and trips got canceled.
This means less people in the aircraft and less planes in the air.
Brian Ewing, aviation journalist and founder of airline geeks, calm describes the current situation.
If I had to use one word I’d say it’s it’s bleak.
It’s It’s weird to walk through airports now.
I mean, there’s nothing Going on.
I made the argument the other day, I’d rather walk through an airport right now than going to a Walmart because there’s less people in the airport it feels like.
For airlines, this is men adjusting operations quickly and parking hundreds of planes that would otherwise be flying.
Some of them are going to commercial aviation maintenance facilities like the one in Tulsa, and some of them are going to boneyards and storage areas in places like Victorville California, Tucson, Arizona, and Roswell, New Mexico.
For example, take American Airlines the largest carrier in the world by fleet size and passengers carried American which has a fleet of roughly 950 planes, and was flying around 900 back in March, had to come up with a plan to park 400 aircraft, including some that would be retired earlier than originally planned.
How do you even do that?
So as we went from 3300 flights a day, down to well under a thousand,
It freed up aircraft from the basic schedule.
So we were then able, through a planning group, to identify those.
And then it was really trying to identify locations where we could go put those aircrafts.
So you can imagine it didn’t just happen in a weekend either.
It took some effort to get those to the places where we wanted them to be.
There’s not one place in the world where we could stick 400 airplanes.
So that’s why we ended up with you know, a couple maintenance spaces three or four service providers and eight or nine wind stations.
One of the places where American Airlines and other companies are storing some of their planes Is the Roseville air center, yes, that Roswell?
Around 800 people work in this 4000 acre airport and they are seeing an unprecedented intensity of operations.
A few years back they established the total capacity of the center at, 800 aircraft dependent on the size of planes, but they had never reached that number, not even after 911.
So as of this moment, today, we’ll cross over 300 planes that we’ve received from this current event.
We had about 160 here already, we anticipate that we can store about another 300 planes.
Mark Bleth is the deputy director and manager of the center.
In the past weeks Roswell has been receiving so many planes for storage that the maintenance operators Haven’t always been able to keep up with demand.
If they could, they’d send 50 planes a day at the beginning instead of now 10, 20 a day.
But there’s a backlog that that happens when you have that many planes showing up at once.
So we’ve been receiving lately about, Five planes a day, so it varies from one day to the next.
Sometimes we have a pause just so we can kinda catch up.
As a matter of fact, today we’ve just shut down one of our runways.
The ways and that’s a temporary closure just for repositioning planes to we can optimize our parking.
Because here’s the thing.
You can’t just park a plane and leave it there.
This is how it all works.
For starters, it needs to be moved from the airport and taken to its storage location.
A maintenance team will accept the aircraft and conduct the first inspections.
Those include walk arounds on the aircraft and interior checks to make sure nothing is starting to smell.
Remove all the food and beverages, drain the water and confirm the wheels are properly chocked.
So the plane isn’t going anywhere.
Once that is done, a planning team will work with the company to release a storage program.
The plane is moved to what is called short term storage, which is not that short can actually last weeks or months, and then the team will seal all the windows tubes and entryways to the aircraft because you don’t want them For example to have animals nesting inside, or have the sun deteriorate the seats every 10 days the team will take the coverings off the aircraft and carry out some maintenance tasks.
For example, they’ll do engine runs, rotate the tires, run the auxiliary power unit and the air conditioning system and try the flap systems.
This can take about eight hours of work.
Once a month, you’ll need to run additional checkups.
If you’ve stored it properly, which, of course we were going to do, you validated throughout the whole process that the aircraft systems still work.
So it’s not, it’s not like you’re going out Hoping that the airplane will start back up when you go to reactivate it.
This process can vary slightly depending on the type of plane and the company, and of course the current and extraordinary circumstances.
Air bus for example, already announced that they are extending calendar intervals for scheduled maintenance tasks, and reducing the frequency of periodic ground checks wherever it’s safe and justified.
To make things easier, airlines can use a new app called, Parking Management, based on Skywise, an open data platform developed by Airbus.
This app allows them to tag their granted aircraft in Skywise, and track where everything is stored, the planes age, the latest checks, and the upcoming maintenance tasks.
Among other things, this way operators can decide more efficiently where to store each aircraft and in what order.
The question now is when will planes be back in the air.
As of May the situation is starting to look slightly better than a month before.
Numbers are still a small percentage of what they were one year ago.
Yeah, I think the international operation will come back more slowly than the domestic operation.
As we went through April and May, those numbers of 90 to 95% fewer passengers still seem like they’re playing out.
To hopefully you’ll be a little bit better and then as I think as we look to July onwards,we’ll just have to see see how the reopening of the country goes and the reopening of the world goes quite honestly,
I don’t really expect international travel to come back for you know, on the way it was for probably M.aybe six months or so at least the contingency upon airlines getting back to normal is that cities open up, resorts open up, leisure travel opens up, businesses want to send people to congress.
The whole airline industry is contingent upon that.>> In the meantime, the planes will be waiting.