With demand for air travel in a nose dive, U.S. airlines are taking hundreds of commercial planes out of service and parking them in remote desert airports, with the hope that the aircraft will be back in the air shortly.
The coronavirus outbreak has pushed so many planes out of service that the business of storing aircraft is taking off, with some remote airports parking more and more planes on seldom-used runways and taxiways.
"There is no doubt, we are extremely busy," said Lisa Skeels, director of corporate initiates for ComAv, an aircraft maintenance and storage firm at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville.
Because of the steep drop in demand for air travel and flight restrictions to international destinations, Delta and American Airlines, two of the world's largest carriers, have announced plans to ground more than 1,000 planes combined. Southwest Airlines said it parked two dozen 737-700 planes over the weekend.
The need to store idle planes is one of several challenges facing the nation's airline industry, which had only recently been reporting record profits and had invested heavily in new routes, spacious new airport lounges and more fuel-efficient planes.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. airlines have cut capacity by more than 1.4 million seats, or 6% in the last week alone, according to OAG, an airline data company.
Some of the nation's busiest airports have become ghost towns, with foot traffic at Los Angeles International Airport dropping 38% in the second week of March compared with the same period a year earlier, according to data analytics company Placer.
Some airlines, including low-cost carrier Spirit, are trying to drum up business by offering one-way tickets as low as $18 a seat, plus fees.
Major airlines reportedly are drafting plans for a potential shutdown of virtually all passenger flights because of falling demand and coronavirus outbreaks among air traffic control employees, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources.
A spokesman for American Airlines said "we do not have any plans to shut down," while a Delta Air Lines representative declined to comment on the Journal story.