With a capacity to store up to 500 aircraft, it can be quite a surreal sight at Victorville Airport. The site is often dubbed an aircraft boneyard. However, there is a lot more to it than that, with plenty of activity at the Southern Californian airport. Simple Flying spoke with John Kilmer, an aircraft maintenance technician at Victorville to find out more about what happens at the scene.
An ideal spot
Formally known as Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA), the site has a rich history, dating back to 1941. The location was a United States Air Force flight training facility up until 1992. It went by the name of George Air Force Base (GAFB) before converting to offer civilian usage.
Located in San Bernardino County, California, the Southern California International Airport, the predecessor to SCLA, opened in October 1994. The following year, it was granted an FAA Part 139 Certificate to serve passenger and cargo airlines.
Today, with “severe clear” weather throughout the year and over 2,200 acres of space, Victorville is the perfect destination for aircraft that need to be stored. There is plenty of open flat land and the warm climate slows down the corrosion of metal. Moreover, the low humidity offers lower maintenance costs.
Nonetheless, despite the planes spending up to long period at ComAv Technical Services’ facilities at Victorville, there is a lot of work for employees to do on the aircraft. Onsite activity includes maintenance and completion services, flight testing, end-of-life cycle services, research and development, and plane asset management.
Kilmer works for IAC, which is a company that specializes in painting aircraft liveries at Victorville. He explains that planes can pass through for several reasons. Along with the storage of aircraft, private charters and cargo jets also fly in.
Catering to the whole market
Notably, there are a range of paint jobs conducted at IAC’s facilities. In the morning before the call with Kilmer, his team had just received a United Airlines Boeing 777 with the older Continental-style coating. However, in approximately two weeks’ time, the jet will be transformed into its new sky blue livery.
Other jobs include touch-ups when there has been damage. For instance, Victorville recently had a Boeing BBJ arrive that had some scratches, which required some work. There are also times when operators have sent an aircraft to the site after selling it off, and they don’t want their logo to be shown while the plane is sitting there. So, the workers of IAC cover up the airline’s branding.
Altogether, there is a melting pot of aviation activity at ComAv. Resources and aircraft from all across the world can be found on site.
“I would say it’s the one place in the world where you probably see everything that flies. There are days where local manufacturers or larger companies need to do logistics work. You would see Antonovs come in, factory planes come in, and bare-metal test flights. There are also a lot of military charters because of the nearby bases,” Kilmer told Simple Flying.
“Sometimes the fighter jets or transports will come in and just get fuel for lunchtime. So, you’ll see them grab lunch at the airport and fly off. You don’t know what you expect at this airport but it’s truly a unique experience.”
Adapting to the conditions
The pandemic has had an obvious impact on ramping up operations at ComAv. As well as airlines relocating their grounded planes, many can’t take on deliveries of their brand new units. So, several jets are flying in fresh from Boeing after completion.
The airport was regardless able to handle such an influx of units. Kilmer explains that one of the two runways was completely shut down to fill up primarily with Delta Air Lines aircraft.
Victorville is no stranger to responding to quick transformations in the industry. Following the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX back in March 2019, airlines had to find space to store the narrowbody. Therefore, the airport was the ideal solution amid the saga.
“Southwest brought their whole MAX fleet down here when the MAX got grounded. And not to mention, Southwest is also kind of in a position right now, when each MAX goes out, they also bring in a few of their older -700s to retire. So, it’s always rotating,” Kilmer said.
“Southwest is flying two or three MAX units out a week. So, I think by April, the Southwest MAX aircraft will be gone, and I know Boeing themselves are pushing out a MAX here and there every week or two. So, I’d say maybe by the summer, you’ll see very few MAX aircraft here.”
The show continues
With the MAX returning to the skies and the aviation industry looking to get the recovery process going this summer, there will be plenty of aircraft flying off this year. Nevertheless, Victorville and its workers will continue to conduct their duties and will be ready for any twists in the industry.
Kilmer concludes that there is a great community spirit at the airport. His team is looking forward to working with its customers in the next chapter.
Overall, what are your thoughts about the activity at Victorville Airport? What do you make of the operations at the site’s facilities? Let us know what you think in the comment section.