COVID-19

Grounded planes find a temporary desert home during the pandemic

Phil Latzman Apr 14, 2021
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The desert around Pinal Airpark helps preserve aircrafts' internal systems and protects the metallic surfaces from corrosive environments. Christian Petersen/Getty Images
COVID-19

Grounded planes find a temporary desert home during the pandemic

Phil Latzman Apr 14, 2021
Heard on:
The desert around Pinal Airpark helps preserve aircrafts' internal systems and protects the metallic surfaces from corrosive environments. Christian Petersen/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Between Phoenix and Tucson along Interstate 10 is a long stretch of glistening aluminum. What seems like a metal mirage in the middle of the Sonoran Desert is actually row after row of commercial jets stored at the Pinal Airpark.

Jim Petty is the airpark’s director. He said before the pandemic there were about 89 planes on site. But last year that number jumped to over 400.

“Most of it has to do with the virus,” Petty said.

While travel, tourism and airlines have struggled, Petty’s once-small airport has thrived as the industry had to cool its jets. “It really is a hard thing to say, because it hurts, but yeah it’s helped out the airpark quite a bit,” he said.

The cost of jet storage can range from a few hundred dollars a month to the five figures, including services and upkeep. And as it turns out, the desert of the southwestern United States makes for the perfect long-term parking lot. 

“With its low humidity, very arid conditions, it’s very good for the aircraft,” said David Querio, president of Tucson-based Ascent Aviation Services, whose company looks after those grounded aircraft.

The desert helps preserve the aircraft’s internal systems and protects the metallic surfaces from corrosive environments.

Business has also been good for Querio. 

“We do heavy maintenance, modifications, storage, paint, reclamation. It’s been a very robust year with the effect of COVID-19,” he said.

At the height of the pandemic, global air travel was down as much as 90%.

But Petty said that’s beginning to change as many of the jets have started moving off lots at his Pinal Airpark.

“I think this is going to be a very good indicator of hopeful future need in the aviation industry for flights,” he said.

Even when airlines are ready to move planes out of storage, there may be another issue to deal with: Finding people that know how to fly them. And now Petty said the industry is anticipating a possible shortage of pilots to get all those jets airborne again.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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