Grounded: Empty jets sit out pan­demic in Pyre­nees

Arab News - - Business News - Reuters Tarbes, France

At the air­port of Tarbes in France, row upon row of empty jets in liv­er­ies from Asia to Africa sit nose to tail, wait­ing out the coro­n­avirus cri­sis in the foothills of the Pyre­nees.

Air travel has tum­bled to a frac­tion of nor­mal lev­els due to the pan­demic, ground­ing about two-thirds of the world’s fleet and stretch­ing Europe’s largest air­craft stor­age com­pany.

“To­day there is no (travel) de­mand. That is why we have more than 200 air­craft on our sites,” said Pa­trick Le­cer, CEO of Tar­mac Aerosave, head­quar­tered at Tarbes. The pre­vi­ous record for planes stored by the com­pany was 150.

The cri­sis



the pic­turesque air­port into a refuge for the in­dus­try’s big­gest jets, sym­bols of glob­al­iza­tion now look­ing out of their el­e­ment amid green farm­land.

The ter­mi­nal serv­ing pil­grims for nearby Lour­des re­mains al­most empty.

In the high-risk air­line busi­ness, where brands come and go with lit­tle warn­ing, Le­cer is used to hav­ing to be flex­i­ble, find­ing space for air­craft on be­half of mainly leas­ing clients.

But the speed of the air­line in­dus­try melt­down put the firm on an emer­gency foot­ing as air­lines sought space world­wide.

“I got called on a Satur­day night by one client who said that the plane is in the air and ar­riv­ing with you to­mor­row morn­ing,” Le­cer said.

Most new ar­rivals go in “ac­tive” park­ing, ready to fly at short no­tice. Hy­draulics are drained, mov­ing parts get a coat of grease and fuel tanks are left 10 per­cent full to pre­vent seals dry­ing.

Af­ter three months, air­craft must leave or go into longer-term stor­age, which in­cludes pro­tect­ing cab­ins and en­gines with bags of sil­ica gel, like the sa­chets used to pack elec­tron­ics.

“In an A380 you need 100 kg of sil­ica. Hu­mid­ity is the en­emy,” Le­cer said.

With so few planes fly­ing, stor­age de­mand looks set to peak, Le­cer said. But as air­lines slowly re­store flights, the in­dus­try faces new risks as gov­ern­ment sup­port eases and bills fall due.

“There is a risk of de­faults, and if there are de­faults air­planes will be re­cov­ered by their own­ers,” Le­cer said. When that hap­pens they get parked again un­til new op­er­a­tors emerge.

Tar­mac Aerosave was set up to re­cy­cle jets by own­ers Air­bus, Safran and SUEZ, but most rev­enue comes from park­ing jets be­tween lease con­tracts.

The com­pany has boosted ex­ist­ing ca­pac­ity at Tarbes by 25 per­cent through op­ti­miza­tion and is in talks with Euro­pean air­ports to add more stand-by space, Le­cer said.

It re­cently added a fourth stor­age site at Va­try in France on an ex-NATO fighter base. Now civil air­lin­ers wait out the pan­demic there, with Air­bus pre­dict­ing it will take up to five years for air traf­fic to re­turn to nor­mal.


About two-thirds of the global com­mer­cial air­line fleet is cur­rently grounded.


Air France A380s at Tar­mac Aerosave’s stor­age fa­cil­ity in Tarbes, France. The pic­turesque air­port has be­come a refuge for idle jets.

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