Tornado Season Could Cause Chaos With Parked Aircraft

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Tornado season in the United States takes place between April and June. However, despite a quiet start, the Washington Post reports that this year, activity could really pick up in the next few weeks. With so many aircraft parked in at-risk areas, should airlines worry about their massive fleets openly sitting in the potential path of tornadoes?

Some of American Airline’s planes are parked in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo: American Airlines

Aircraft parked in ‘tornado alley’

Many aircraft parked and stored by US carriers happen to be in an area of the United States known as ‘tornado alley’. This is a nickname given to an area that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says consistently experiences a high frequency of tornadoes each year.

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Parking locations for American and Delta fleets include Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, and Tulsa. These airports all fall within risk areas. Photo: Mamatus via Wikimedia Commons

The risk to airlines

At a result of the drop in travel demand, airports have closed runways and parked aircraft at several major airports across the country. According to AccuWeather, sites include “Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Denver, as well as tornado-prone sites such as Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Kansas City and Tulsa, Oklahoma, among other locations.”

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With the majority of its fleet parked at both Dallas-Fort Worth and Tulsa, American Airlines seems to be at a higher risk. The carrier has 22 buildings, more than 5,500 employees, and 3.3 million square feet of hangar and shop space on 330 acres at Tulsa International Airport.

When asked about the risk and threat posed by tornado season, the airline simply told us,

“We experience inclement every year in North Texas – where our largest hub, DFW is located – and in Tulsa too.”

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An American Airlines representative told AccuWeather, “We are aware of the weather, but Tulsa is our largest maintenance base,”

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While less tornado-prone than other parking sites, Atlanta and Delta’s aircraft are at-risk as well. Photo: Formulanone via Flickr

Delta’s hub in Atlanta is also at-risk. This was most evident last month when a tornado missed Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport by less than a mile. Responsible for the deaths of at least 30 people, the tornado caused damage to the Monroe regional airport in nearby Louisiana.

Should airlines be worried?

AccuWeather reports that 103 tornado warnings were issued for the Tulsa area from April 30 through May 2019, it was “the most issued by any forecast office in the country during that span” the weather service notes.

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In fact, a tornado hit just four miles away from the Tulsa International Airport on May 20 of last year. During this incident, passengers at the airport were moved into shelters for approximately 30 minutes.

Conclusion

Certainly, the odds aren’t at zero and the risk is much higher than everywhere else in the United States. Still, the landscape is vast and the odds still favor misses rather than hits. In fact, AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok says that “[t]he chances of an airport getting hit, or any specific spot, are low.”

To be absolutely certain that their aircraft are safe, they would need to fly to other parts of the country. Given the fact they aircraft are staying put, it seems like carriers have decided to take their chances.

Do you think we’ll see any tornados hit parked aircraft this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Simple Flying also reached out to Delta for comment on the risk. However, due to the timing of this article, we were unable to include a response at time of publication. We will issue an update if any new information is received.

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