It’s always sad to see aircraft being retired and scrapped. But where do they end up when this happens? This article takes a look at aircraft graveyards and highlights some of the largest in different locations around the world.
The aircraft graveyard
With the aviation slowdown in 2020, the aircraft graveyard, also called a boneyard, is more often heard about. Many airlines send aircraft to these graveyards for retirement or long term storage. This also highlights their mixed uses. Despite being called graveyards, they are not just places for aircraft to be forgotten about. When they are really no longer wanted, aircraft will usually be taken apart and scrapped.
Many aircraft will end up rusting and decaying in graveyards, but many graveyards also hold aircraft only temporarily until they are needed back in service, or perhaps sold. These aircraft will be maintained and kept ready. In addition, many aircraft will never return to service but will be retained for supplying parts. Simple Flying looked more at long term storage and how airlines prepare aircraft in a previous article.
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Keeping them in the desert
There are aircraft graveyards all over the world. Most are located in desert or semi-desert environments. The lack of rain and moisture offers the best conditions for the storage of aircraft, reducing damage and corrosion to the airframe and other aircraft components.
The desert also offers dry, hard ground that does not need to be paved. And there is plenty of affordable space for storage and expansion.
Davis-Monthan Air Force base, the world’s largest military graveyard
Davis-Monthan, near Tucson, Arizona is home to the US military’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). This is a major graveyard for US government and military aircraft, and it has an impressive collection.
Many retired military aircraft have been stored here, often in huge numbers, over the years, before being scrapped. This includes the B29 Superfortress and the B52 Stratofortress. Some reports claim there are as many as 4,000 aircraft stored at Davis-Monthan. It is possible to tour the site by bus, and there are many iconic aircraft on display.
Pinal Airpark, near Tuscon, Arizona, US
There are several boneyard sites in the deserts of California and Arizona used for commercial aircraft. Pinal Airpark in Arizona is the largest, with capacity for around 400 aircraft. Pinal is located close to Davis-Monthan and was a former army airbase.
It is not always clear which airlines store (or retire) their aircraft where. Pinal is used by many airlines, including Delta, Air Canada, and JetBlue (according to previous reporting).
Roswell International Air Center, New Mexico, US
Like many other graveyards, this was an airforce base during and after World War II. As well as operating as a small, regional airport today, it is home to several storage and recycling companies. Roswell can accommodate up to 800 aircraft (according to the Los Angeles Times).
According to reporting by the website Airplaneboneyards, it is used by several airlines, including American Airlines, Air Canada, Hawaiian Airlines, and UPS. International airlines include Scoot and Kenya Airways.
Victorville, California, US
Victorville in Southern California is home to the Southern California Logistics Airport. ComAv operates a graveyard that can accommodate around 500 aircraft, on a 240-acre site (according to reporting by the Los Angeles Times).
The Los Angeles Times reports Southwest Airlines storing many of its Boeing 737 Max aircraft here. And Simple Flying reported on Delta releasing its first 737 from storage here as travel picked up in June 2020. We also shared some excellent video footage of aircraft building up here during the coronavirus pandemic.
Asia-Pacific Aircraft Storage, Alice Springs, Australia
This facility opened only in 2014. It is one of the largest outside the US and the only one in Asia-Pacific. The graveyard shares runways with Alice Springs airport, the largest of which can handle the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380. It occupies a site of 110 acres.
It makes an excellent choice for Australian and Asian airlines, especially for short term storage, as it avoids a flight to storage in the US.
Teruel Airport, Spain
While it may not have the extensive deserts of the US or Mexico, there are dry and arid climates in Europe. Teruel in Spain provides the largest facility.
The facility here is not as large as the vast US sites. Usage has risen during 2020, though, with almost 100 aircraft stored there (including eight A380 aircraft) in mid-May, according to reporting by Reuters. This includes the whole of Lufthansa’s A340-600 fleet.
Other European airlines using this facility include British Airways and Air France. There are some excellent pictures of these aircraft in this article.
Have you ever visited any of the aircraft graveyards in the US or elsewhere? Feel free to share your stories and what you saw in the comments.