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Airplane Boneyards......

A1FlyBoy

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Enough
It's another perfect day in the boneyard: blue skies overhead, a sea of sand and cactus -- and rows of parked airplanes -- below. Trevor Van Horn smiles as he gazes out his office window. Another passengerless 747 descends toward the runway.

In his 33 years in the aircraft industry, Van Horn has started airlines and run them, bought airplanes and sold them. And so it's fitting that, at age 56, Van Horn is now president of Evergreen Air Center, a 1,600-acre swath of desert floor in Marana, Ariz., just a short hop north of the Mexican border. Here, Van Horn presides over the world's biggest parking lot for unwanted commercial aircraft. The boneyard is where airplanes come to die.


"We don't call it the boneyard," says Van Horn, the nose of a mothballed Air Atlanta 747-200 dominating the view from his office window. Everybody else does, though. Since calamity struck the airline industry in September, the little-known enterprise of storing, retiring, or scrapping unused planes has quickly become a booming business. Last spring Van Horn had 140 discarded planes on the lot; by January he expects to have 225. In all, nearly 1,000 planes have been grounded in the United States, Canada, and Mexico since September, eventually making their way to Evergreen and several other storage sites in the Southwest, where the warm, dry air serves as a cheap and effective airplane preservative.


According to the Air Transport Assn., available seat miles have dropped nearly 20 percent since the Sept. 11 attacks, and the industry has laid off more than 100,000 workers. The rapid slump and grim revenue forecasts have forced many airlines to ground dozens of older, less efficient planes, and even prompted manufacturers to mothball some brand-new but unsold jets -- "whitetails," in aviation parlance.


So the skies over Marana are filled with new arrivals. Lufthansa has a few 747s on the way. The German carrier Condor is sending some 757s. Van Horn has hired two new staffers to keep up with the logistics of parking and storing incoming planes. And to fend off potential terrorists who might be interested in nabbing a mothballed jet, he has installed new security sensors and barriers at the gate to protect the expanding inventory.


Evergreen has so many airplanes bearing the colors and logos of so many airlines, it resembles a sandy, inert version of O'Hare. Many will never fly again -- the oldest plane here, a Boeing 707, arrived in 1981 -- but Van Horn's operation stands to benefit regardless. Evergreen International, a privately held company based in McMinnville, Ore., grossed nearly $50 million on its Marana operations last year and currently oversees about $1 billion in "heavy assets" -- roughly 190 airplanes as of early November. When supply and demand get as out of whack as they are now, planes that cost the most to maintain relative to their value (usually older gas-guzzlers with higher maintenance costs) are the first to be unloaded. In November, for example, United retired its entire fleet of older 737s and some 727s, 99 planes in all.


About 20 percent of the dozens of wide-bodies now parked in Evergreen's "alpha row," mostly aging 747s and DC-10s, are simply "pickled": Workers drain them of fluids and tape their windows for storage. Airlines pay $750 to $5,000 a month for this service, but the total overhaul needed to get them airborne again, known as a C-check, costs about $1.5 million. Many of the other jumbos, meanwhile, are headed for the "cutting yard" at the north edge of the field. Five 747s are lined up in front of two huge contraptions called "the guillotine" and "the pincher," which will slice and dice the planes into beer-can-size scraps of aluminum. The process takes about four days -- "a lot less time," Van Horn says, "than it took to build 'em."


Evergreen strips as much as $5 million in reusable parts out of a typical 747, depending on the plane's age and condition, Van Horn says. A fuselage can go for about $20,000, and most of the other parts -- engines, cockpit electronics, flaps, struts, landing gear, and the like -- are refurbished and either sold back to the airline or put on a secondhand parts market estimated to be worth some $5 billion per year. Most working airplanes, Van Horn explains, are like octogenarians: They keep going with a rebuilt knee here, a hip replacement there. Still, as reliable as used plane parts may be, they're hardly something to advertise to jittery consumers -- which is why, as Van Horn puts it, "this is a pretty quiet industry."


Just about everything on this lot, in fact, is for sale. Van Horn prowls the field here like a used-car dealer peddling Pontiacs. Someone, somewhere, he insists, will surely want that MD-1011, still carrying the colors of its last owner, Eastern Airlines; or British Airways's first DC-10, signed by dozens of employees when it was retired.


Airplane buffs, he says, show up almost daily. But serious buyers are scrutinized carefully. Earlier this year, one client flew off with a 747 that had been sitting for months. The customer, which promised to pay within 30 days, went bankrupt; Evergreen lost $1 million on the deal. Van Horn has since enacted a new boneyard rule: Customers now must pay before a plane leaves the field. "We're like the place where you get your car fixed,'' he says. "We keep the keys until the bill gets paid.''
 

A1FlyBoy

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Mojave, Kern County -- There are more planes than people at the Mojave
Airport.
A stunning sight greets visitors to this town on the edge of nowhere --
hundreds of parked jetliners sprawl across the desert floor, looking from
afar like so many children's toys.
The ghost fleet is not a mirage but a barometer of the nation's airline
industry.
Since Sept. 11, the number of aircraft parked at Mojave Airport has
swelled to nearly 300 from about 70 before the attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon.
They've come from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, US Airways, KLM,
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic -- some of the world's largest carriers.
They began arriving daily after airlines slashed schedules after the
attacks.
The dry air of Mojave, the nation's largest way station for grounded
planes,
located about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, helps prevent corrosion. A=
nd
it costs less -- $250 a month -- to park a Boeing 727 at the airport than
it does to park a car in downtown San Francisco.
BRAND-NEW PLANES
Some planes are brand new, ordered before last year's economic slowdown
and then mothballed after flight schedules were slashed after the Sept. 11
attacks.
At one end of the airport, seven Boeing 737s sporting the Southwest
Airlines color scheme of purple over red and orange shimmer in the late
winter sun, windows taped over, doors sealed and engines wrapped tightly
against the dust.
"They've only got four hours on them. They were flown from Boeing (in
Seattle) straight to here," said Rick Quillen, the airport's security
chief.
Some planes are returning to service as jittery passengers slowly return
to the skies.
After dropping sharply in September and October, passenger numbers are
climbing. Still, levels are 14 percent lower than a year ago.
CUTS AT UNITED
The figures for United Airlines, the largest carrier at San Francisco
International Airport, show how slow the rebound has been.
After Sept. 11, United slashed 800 flights from its worldwide schedule of
2, 400 daily flights. At SFO, the carrier cut the number of daily flights
from 230 before Sept. 11 to 160 as of February.
United is now recalling flight attendants and pilots and recently
announced plans to add 120 flights.
"We're seeing an increase in demand, but certainly not at the levels we'd
like to see," said United spokesman Chris Brathwaite.
Other carriers are also boosting service.
"We had two Virgin Atlantic 747s come in. One flew out the other day. Th=
ey
put it back into service," Quillen said.
GAS-GUZZLERS GROUNDED
But dozens of other planes mothballed at Mojave and other desert airports
across the Southwest will never fly again. Most are older, gas-guzzling
models that will be drained, stripped and scrapped.
"We've cut some up and shipped them to Hong Kong and Taiwan in seagoing
containers. They make restaurants out of them," said Dan Sabovich, the
airport general manager.
The last time Sabovich saw such an influx of aircraft was after the Gulf
War. But he's never seen so many planes arrive so quickly and stay
grounded for so long.
U.S. carriers have mothballed about 650 planes in the past few months,
according to the Air Transport Association, an industry trade group. About
350 of those are directly attributed to the attacks, while the remainder
were already destined for storage because of the economic downturn that
began before the attacks.
United, for instance, has grounded its entire fleet of 75 narrow-body
Boeing 727s and older 737s. The airline was already planning to phase out
the planes, but the move was accelerated after Sept. 11, Brathwaite said.
Another reason to mothball planes is the airlines' desperate need to cut
costs. "One way is to control costs is to run a fuel-efficient fleet,"
said Mike Wascom of the Air Transport Association.
A Boeing 727, once the workhorse of the airline industry, burns roughly =
1,
300 gallons of fuel per hour, Wascom said. A newer model Boeing 737, which
seats roughly the same number of passengers, burns slightly more than 800
gallons per hour.
"If you're looking to cut costs, bringing back a gas-guzzler doesn't get
you there," Wascom said.
The surplus of aircraft has led to a free fall in the price of used
jetliners.
PRICE TAG $610,000
A 30-year-old 727 can be picked up for as little as $610,000, or about t=
he
price of a three-bedroom home on the Peninsula.
"Essentially, there is no market for them," said Nick Lacey, executive
vice president of Morten Beyer & Agnew, an aviation consulting firm.
An older Boeing 747 in good condition now sells for $2.87 million, down
from more than $4.5 million as of last summer, Lacey said. Prices of newer
models have also plunged: A 747 built in 1995 now goes for $66.9 million,
down from nearly $90 million last summer.
It costs airlines as little as $250 a month to park a plane in the Mojav=
e,
which also doubles as a testing ground for stunt planes, prototypes and
other high-tech fliers.
Sabovich expects most of the jetliners will see service again, possibly
not in the United States but somewhere in South America or Asia. Others
are destined for the scrap heap. "When they're empty, they're like a beer
can," he said.
Sabovich has run the airport since 1969, and his walls are decorated with
autographed photos from pilots from around the world.
For now, the airport is quite a sight for travelers on their way to the
Southern Sierra or Southern California.
"You don't normally see that many commercial planes in one place not doi=
ng
anything," Lacey said.
 

ShawnC

Skirts Will Rise
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Jan 17, 2002
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I'll give him $10 for an old 727. :D

Now who wants to give me the type rating. :)
 

avbug

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Dec 14, 2001
Posts
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Aircraft storage at Marana isn't half as interesting as what really goes on there. (And used to go on there).

Who knows the history?
 

A Squared

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Nov 26, 2001
Posts
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Marana used to be a facility for companies providing covert air support for CIA operations. Intermountain Aviation was one such operation. Evergreen was formed in part by the acquisition of Intermountan's assets.


regards,
 

skydiverdriver

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 26, 2001
Posts
869
Total Time
5000+
Not far from Marana is Davis Monthan Air Force Base, which is the boneyard for all of the armed forces in the US. They have tours daily, starting from the Pima Air Museum. It's a fascinating ride through history, in a bus with a guy telling the story. Another, less known museum is the Titan Missile Museum. It's run by the same people, a few miles away in Green Valley Arizona. It's an actual ICBM missle silo with a missle in it. The top of the missle has a hole in it, and there is a window on the silo so the Soviets can see that it's not operational. It wasn't easy to get permission from them to have it open to the public, either.

All great places to go for a pilot or enthusiast with some vacation time on his hands.
 
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