Airlines parking planes at southern Arizona airports

Grounded planes find a home, for now, in Marana
Updated: Apr. 8, 2020 at 1:17 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The coronavirus has thrown the travel industry into a tailspin.

Thousands of planes are being grounded as airlines continue to cut flights.

With Arizona’s dry weather, many companies have their sights set on the desert.

“These airliners are the first airline aircraft that have ever landed at this airport intentionally,” said Steve Miller, the Airport Director for the Town of Marana. “So far, we have 19 American Airline owned Embraer air regional jet 175s.”

The Marana Regional Airport was approached by Jet Yard, LLC, a Minnesota-based aircraft storage and maintenance company that serves Pinal Airpark.

“At the Marana Airport, we don’t have maintenance staff, so we are working with [Jet Yard],” said Miller. “It’s not a matter of just parking a plane and leaving it, planes are meant to be in the air, not sitting on the ground long-term. So, there is a lot of preparation that goes into storage.”

On Tuesday, Jet Yard employees were busy going through checklists.

“Get your covers, run your APU, do all of your flight control checks, make sure you’re not missing anything,” said Mitch Sluder, an Aircraft Mechanic. “We have gotten the whole process down to about two hours and forty five minutes per plane.”

Maintenance doesn’t stop there, though.

“We do a seven day check after that and then maybe a 30 day check,” said Sluder.

Sluder says it’s important to make sure the elements (dirt, water and animals) stay out.

Miller says the airport ramp currently housing nearly two dozen planes can fit about 10 more. Public Works crews have also cleared a 25 acre area to fit about 50 more, depending on their size.

Over at the Tucson International Airport, the calls have been coming in.

“We have received inquiries from every airline in the US,” said Bruce Goetz, the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Tucson Airport Authority.

Goetz says planes started arriving over the weekend. 10 are parked, with space for about 60 more. It’s a needed revenue, as the Tucson Airport’s passenger numbers took a nosedive, dropping 95 percent.

“I don’t think [profits from parking planes] nearly touches the dramatic offset in passengers,” said Goetz, “but every little bit helps.”

Miller says the Marana Airport is one of the only departments in town actually seeing an increase in revenue right now.

“We are looking at probably several hundred thousand dollars over the course of the year,” he said.

Officials at both the Marana and Tucson airports have no idea how long they will be parking planes for.

However, Miller says the Marana Regional Airport is ready to house aircraft for a year. He believes it will be several years before the travel industry takes off again.

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