Spain Has An Abandoned Aircraft Problem – Here’s Why

Parking spaces are in short supply if you’re looking to leave a jet at a Spanish Airport. A recent report from AENA, the Spanish airport aviation authority, suggests there are at least 71 aircraft which have been abandoned at Spanish airports. Some of these aircraft have been taking up spaces since 2009. But how do you go about getting rid of an abandoned plane?

Abandoned Planes
Many planes were abandoned after the 2008 financial crash. Photo: Ryan Harvey via Flickr

The 2008 financial crisis affected a lot of people. It also affected a lot of airlines. The result was many airlines were forced to cease operations in the following years and aircraft were left abandoned.

The cost of moving a plane in order for it to be scrapped has been estimated to be in excess of €60,000 ($66,600). For many bankrupt airlines or private owners, simply abandoning the plane was a better option. There’s also the issue of parking fees – keeping a plane is expensive. Simple Flying recently reported that one MD-87 at Madrid’s Barajas Airport has accumulated a €200 million ($222.2 million) parking fee.

So, if the airline can’t afford to keep it, or move it, or scrap it, it becomes abandoned. But what happens to it then?

At auction

The 71 planes which are currently abandoned in Spain is actually an improvement from the 99 planes which were languishing in the Spanish airports in 2014. The planes had a combined debt of €2.78 million. Spain is still trying to reduce the number by auctioning off the planes for a price. But the process is long.

First, the authorities have to be sure that there isn’t an owner likely to pop up and claim the plane and pay off the parking debts. This means searching through records to find the original owner and see if they have a successor or if anyone is legally responsible. If a company has been dissolved and there is no one who can claim the plane then the process for declaring the plane as abandoned can begin.

Once it has been fully established as abandoned, it can be sold. But some of these aircraft have been rusting for years. In Valencia, a huge Boeing 747, known as a Jumbo, has been sat by the runway as a sad sort of mascot since 2009. Clearly, this, and many other planes, are not able to be sold for current flight operations. So, generally, they are sold at auction for scrap.

Pronair Boeing 747
This Pronair Boeing 747 has been in Valencia since 2009. Photo: Eric Salard via Flickr


No buyers

In theory, auctioning off the planes would create space in airports and provide some financial relief as airports would no longer responsible for housing the aircraft at great cost.

But in practice, this may not be as successful as it seems. The AENA has yet to declare if any of the planes previously sold at an auction actually covered the costs of keeping the planes or moving them. And this is the best-case scenario when buyers are found for the planes. In several previous auctions, the planes went unclaimed.

If planes remain unclaimed and unwanted then perhaps the next best option is to give the aircraft to museums, training centers or emergency departments, where they can be used for educational purposes. But even in these instances, someone has to pay to move the planes.

Of course, another option is to move the planes into an aircraft graveyard. Again, the cost of moving the planes will have to found from somewhere.

An aircraft graveyard/boneyard
An aircraft graveyard. Photo: Clemens Vasters via Flickr

But many planes don’t have to worry about their fates just yet. The legal process of disposing of aircraft is lengthy and time-consuming so it is unlikely Spain will be able to get rid of all 71 planes in the immediate future.

However, if you fancy picking up a plane on the cheap, then perhaps your next holiday destination should be Spain. More specifically, Valencia or Madrid-Cuatro Vientos, which have 24 and 19 abandoned planes respectively. Both airports had aviation schools, flying clubs, private companies and cabin crew training schools which means they are home to the largest numbers of abandoned aircraft in the country.

What do you think of Spain’s problem? Have you got any thought on how they could rid themselves of the abandoned planes? Let us know in the comments!