Inside the eerie boneyard where planes go to die. Picture: Mike Fiala/Getty Images.
Inside the eerie boneyard where planes go to die. Picture: Mike Fiala/Getty Images.

Inside ‘boneyard’ where Boeings go to die

IT'S the eerie boneyard where old, retired planes go to live out their final days.

Surrounded by desert and collecting dust, hundreds of commercial jetliners are held at a remote facility in Victorville, one of several aircraft graveyards in the deserts of California and Arizona.

An old Boeing 747 collecting dust at a remote plane boneyard. Picture: iStock
An old Boeing 747 collecting dust at a remote plane boneyard. Picture: iStock

The expansive wasteland of jumbo jets and old aircraft sit on the edge of the Mojave Desert in Southern California, an eerie graveyard of planes that once dominated our skies.

Airliner "boneyards" in the deserts of the western United States serve several functions: temporary storage, maintenance, parts reclamation and scrapping.

The remote location works as the perfect storage for the retired planes, as dry conditions reduce corrosion meaning the planes can be stored for years while they are stripped for spare parts.

But following the worldwide grounding of Boeing's 737 MAX 8 fleet earlier this month, the facility has started to welcome a few new guests who are far too young to be stored in a wasteland.

California has historically been a perfect location for the storage of surplus aircraft. Picture: Mike Fiala/Getty Images.
California has historically been a perfect location for the storage of surplus aircraft. Picture: Mike Fiala/Getty Images.

But following the fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash having "clear similarities" to the doomed Lion Air disaster just six months prior, Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration were forced to suspend the MAX 8 fleet globally.

It was a move that stripped the glitzy new aircraft from the sky, leaving hundreds sitting in airports around the world taking up much-needed real estate.

In preparation for long-term grounding, one US carrier has decided to move their MAX 8s out of city locations and out to the desert "graveyard".

Southwest, who has 34 of the MAX models as part of their fleet, started the migration to Victorville earlier this week, but not all relocation flights went exactly as planned.

Earlier today, the US Federal Aviation Administration announced a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max jet made a safe emergency landing in Orlando, Florida, after experiencing an apparent engine problem en route to the desert in California.

The crew declared an emergency after taking off from Orlando International Airport around 2.50pm (5.50am AEDT), and landed the plane safely.

No passengers were on board because despite there being a global grounding of the model, US Airlines are allowed to shuttle the planes to new storage locations providing now passengers are on board. So far, Southwest have relocated six of their MAX 8s since the grounding two weeks ago.

The remainder of the aircraft continue to be stationed in various locations around the US, awaiting further notice about the situation.

Airport space has been one of the biggest obstacles following the global grounding, with a spokesman for American Airlines - who have 24 MAX 8s as part of their fleet - saying they've had to put many of their planes in storage.

And while the aircraft are expected to be used once again, sending a fleet to the desert signals that Southwest is expecting the grounding to last for a significant amount of time yet.

Southwest are taking some of their Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes to a storage ‘boneyard’ in the desert. Picture: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.
Southwest are taking some of their Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes to a storage ‘boneyard’ in the desert. Picture: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

According to Bloomberg, for Chicago-based United Airlines, it was Houston's two airports - one of which is a United hub, the other has a maintenance base - that had room for 11 of its 737 Max 9 aircraft.

The other major impact from the global grounding is flight cancellations across the US in particular, with some carriers warning hundreds of flights disruptions could happen in the next month.

In a statement given to CBS News, American Airlines, which owns 24 Boeing 737 Max aircraft, is cancelling about 90 flights a day and is extending the cancellations through until the end of April.

Southwest Airlines has been cancelling an average of 130 of its 4000 daily flights for now.

Southwest planes are being sent to a ‘boneyard’ in Victorville. Picture: K-CAL9
Southwest planes are being sent to a ‘boneyard’ in Victorville. Picture: K-CAL9

The MAX 8 are the newest version of the 737 with more fuel-efficient engines. It is a central part of Boeing's strategy to compete with European rival Airbus.

But the decision to ground planes around the world - and especially in China - couldn't have come at a worse time for Boeing.

On Monday, their biggest rival Airbus announced a huge order from China. The European plane maker said that it had reached a deal to sell 300 passenger jets to Chinese airlines. According to CNN, the order covers 290 planes from the A320 family and 10 from the A350 line, Airbus (EADSF) said in a statement.

The company said the agreement showed strong demand from all areas of China's rapidly expanding aviation market, including "domestic, low cost, regional and international long haul."

China was the first country to ground the 737 Max earlier this month following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight, which killed all 157 on board.



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