Hundreds of airliners idled by the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the travel industry crowd a southern Arizona airfield where workers are trying to make room for even more aircraft that may not take to the skies again any time soon.
Pinal Airpark just off Interstate 10 between Casa Grande and Tucson, as of last week was providing storage space for approximately 270 aircraft, and manager Jim Petty said most of them were there because of the pandemic.
About 250 miles away in northwestern Arizona, officials at Kingman Municipal Airport hopes to also attract some of the plane-storage business as airlines ground more aircraft and move others to longer-term storage locations.
The region’s warm, dry climate is considered ideal for mothballing aircraft.
Pinal Airpark can probably accommodate an additional 100 planes, depending on how big they are, said Jim Petty, Pinal County’s airport economic development director.
Workers recently have been clearing new areas to accommodate even more arrivals.
“The balloon isn’t ready to pop yet, but it’s getting pretty big,” Petty said. “We can still push it. Until every square inch is used, it’s not full.”
The influx of aircraft began in March as travel restrictions and plummeting demand prompted carriers to slash service on many international routes.
Steep cuts to domestic air travel followed, sending smaller jetliners to join the larger aircraft typically used for long-haul flights.
Airlines parking planes at Pinal Airpark include Delta, Air Canada and JetBlue which also has 20 planes parked at nearby Marana Regional Airport.
The president of Jet Yard, one of two aircraft storage and maintenance companies that operate at Pinal Airpark, said he expects it to get “a hell of a lot busier” in coming months.
Many planes now parked at airports across the country and around the world can’t stay there forever and will have to be moved into storage, said Jet Yard’s Dave Bixler
“The past month has been unlike any month I’ve ever seen,” Bixler said. “And this is just the beginning. My personal opinion: I think it’s going to get a lot worse.”
Kingman’s city-owned airport is preparing new lanes to accommodate planes grounded by airlines needing a less expensive alternative to major airports that may be short of space for long-term storage, General Manager Steve Johnston said.
The city Public Works Department is handling the lanes project in-house.
“We anticipate that if we park them judiciously, we’re figuring we could probably get about 80-some airplanes in there,” Johnston said.
Kingman Municipal Airport and Kingman Airline Services are already fielding interest.
“We’re anticipating at some point someone will want to park airplanes here,” Johnston said. “There aren’t a whole lot of airports like ours where they can do that.”
Both the Kingman airport and Pinal Airpark were constructed in the early 1940s as the U.S. military needed places to train thousands of pilots to serve during World War II.