MARANA, Ariz. (KGUN) — When COVID led airlines to ground a lot of their planes many of those planes ended up in Arizona in storage waiting for passengers to need them again. Now as travel slowly picks up, airlines are beginning to ask storage yards to get planes ready to fly again.
Pinal Airpark in Marana is a barometer of the airline industry and the travel industry. When COVID prompted a lot of airlines to ground their planes, many of them came to Pinal Air Park, but now some of those planes are being prepared to fly again.
Pinal Airpark is a giant parking lot where spaces fill or empty based on demand for airline seats.
Airlines have the company Jet Yard storing about 115 planes here. Company President Dave Bixler says about a hundred came in in the last year and a half.
When COVID hit and drove down air traffic, Bixler knew he'd probably be parking more planes.
“We basically mobilized, got ready and started getting our facility, set up for long-term storage for aircraft being parked for an unknown amount of time.”
He says the first planes of the COVID surge arrived in January 2020.
“And then, of course, around March, April and May we saw a big influx, not just us but all the other maintenance and storage facilities around the United States.”
Bixler says dry conditions make Pinal Air Park an ideal place to preserve planes. Airlines pay seven thousand to fifty thousand dollars a year to park a plane there depending on the size and how much maintenance the plane will receive.
Then airlines watch the travel market to decide when to put planes back in the air. They usually choose planes based on the best number of seats and the best fuel economy to meet market demand.
“And in about seven to 10 days we can do a return to service. It's all dependent on the size of the aircraft. The larger the aircraft, the more inspections and more requirements, but for the regional type of jets we have on our storage site, it's about a seven-day turnaround.”
Bixler says airlines are asking his crews to get planes ready for passengers again but doing it cautiously. A trickle of planes, not a flood. Some of the planes will end their lives at the Air Park, scrapped, or dismantled for parts to keep other planes in the air.
Passenger stats for Tucson International also suggest a cautious comeback for air travel. The latest figures available are for March. They show about 9800 more passengers passing through TIA compared to March of 2020---just short of a five percent jump in passenger traffic.