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Where Have All The Airplanes Gone To?

Features
Writer
Izzat Haziq
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Learn more about the operational teams that ferry empty planes to storage facilities amidst the pandemic.

(Photo Credit: FB@ Jet Test and Transport)

2020 has been a turbulent year for airlines and air carriers across the globe whereby commercial aviation is facing the tough decision of scaling down their operations to stay afloat in times of uncertainty. There aren’t just that many planes in the sky at the moment, especially not with the ongoing travel bans. So, if fewer planes are flying now, where have the rest gone to?

On High Ground
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Did you know that more than 20,000 commercial aircraft are leased to airlines, and at the end of a multi-year lease, an airline can either decide to renew their contract or return the plane to the lessor? Since most airlines have resorted to grounding their planes and reducing their fleets in the wake of the pandemic, aircraft logistics company Jet Test and Transport comes into the picture as the go-to solution for ferrying empty flights around the world

Jet Test and Transport began its operations in 2006 and it functions just like any other small airline. In fact, it even has a designated identifier callsign for its flights - JTN. However, they do not own any aircraft. Regulated under a Bermudian Air Operators Certificate (AOC), the ops team test flights on planes returning to service after maintenance or modification, which includes planes that were originally flying as passenger jets and were then converted to freight cargo, or planes used to fight fires or disperse oil spills.

In Plane Sight
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(Photo Credit: FB@ Jet Test and Transport)

In case you’re wondering, Jet Test’s pilots are qualified to fly different types of planes. Co-founder, Steve Giordano explained that his pilots must be checked out, or “type rated” to fly any type of airliner, from 37-seat regional turboprops like the De Havilland Canada DHC-8 to the commercial 400-plus seat Boeing 747.

"I have 10 type ratings. My partners each have 10 or 11 type ratings, and most of our full-time, contract and part-time pilots each have at least five. We stay qualified across the board on everything, " he told CNN in an interview.

As international travel restrictions were put in place since February 2020, Jet Test and Transport found themselves in a stump which lasted until April. By then, the demand for flights has already shrunken substantially, leading up to airports around the world turning abandoned runways into temporary parking spaces for grounded planes

"Since then, the bulk of the work we're doing is taking airplanes that were in shortterm storage and transporting them into long-term storage facilities, " he said.

As Above, So Below
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Meanwhile, in the town of Marana, Arizona lies Ascent Aviation, the world’s largest aircraft storage, maintenance and reclamation facilities. The always sunny and dry weather conditions of the desert spell out the optimal condition for keeping parked planes in good condition.

According to Ascent Aviation’s chief commercial officer, Scott Butler, the company is seeing aircraft from all six continents going into long-term storage, with space becoming limited at these desert parking lots as capacity is estimated to reach about 75% soon. This shows a stark contrast to the situation in February, when less than 25% of storage berths were in use, in the facility that can fit more than 400 aircraft. It’s the reality of the aviation industry, which is expected to stay this way as long as airplane travel is restricted for most of us before the effects of the pandemic wears down.

So, if you’ve been following aviation updates and wondered what happens behind the scenes of a retired aircraft, hopefully this helps answer some of your questions. While the future remains uncertain for the aviation world, we can always count on these operational teams to get the job done. Meanwhile, let’s all look forward to a brighter future where we’ll get to travel freely again and more airplanes will take to the skies.

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