Inside a remote Arizona aircraft boneyard storing nearly 300 planes grounded by the pandemic

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AirlineGeeks/Ryan Ewing


  • Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona is nearing capacity as it stores hundreds of grounded airliners amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Nearly 25 aircraft arrive at the aircraft boneyard each week, around five per day, with around 300 total to be stored at the airport by May.
  • Special precautions need to be taken to ensure the aircraft are ready to return to service as soon as demand rebounds. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona is just one of the many aircraft boneyards scattered across the Southwest.

They exist as a long-term storage facility for retired or grounded aircraft and are largely spread across New Mexico, Arizona, and California to take advantage of the favorable weather.

The desert climate that surrounds these facilities delays the effects of weathering as the metal birds await their destinies. The COVID-19 pandemic, recently, has given new purpose to some boneyards which are now acting as temporary storage facilities as airlines await the reopening of the country and its skies. 

While from the outside Pinal Air Park may appear to be just a parking lot for jetliners, airlines are paying not only for the parking spots but also for technicians to ensure that the planes are ready to go the moment they’re needed once again.

Delta Air Lines, Air Canada, and even Aer Lingus have been recent visitors to the airfield located along the interstate that connects Phoenix and Tucson.

Aviation journalist Ryan Ewing of AirlineGeeks witnessed first hand how new arrivals are processed and stored away as they await their time to return to the skies. 

Take a look inside one of the nation’s largest boneyards turned COVID-19 hideaway. 

The first arrivals to Marana came in mid-March as it became clear to airlines that demand was drying up amidst a growing spread of the virus and travel restrictions that reduced the ability to travel for many. Delta Air Lines was among the first to send its jets here.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Delta Air Lines planes at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin


Source: AirlineGeeks

When the empty jets land at Pinal Air Park, they’re not greeted by a sprawling terminal building and fellow employees working the gates and ramp area. Rather, the jets taxi over to a facility belonging to Ascent Aviation Services, the primary maintenance, repair, and operations company on the field.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AirlineGeeks/Ryan Ewing


Source: AirlineGeeks

The past few months have seen over 200 arrivals on the airport’s single runway, Ascent Aviation Services told Ewing. Around 25 aircraft land at the airport a week now.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AirlineGeeks/Ryan Ewing


Source: AirlineGeeks

As Ewing noted, the airport sees more traffic now than the entirety of American Airlines’ operation at New York’s LaGuardia Airport since the carrier cut its flight schedule.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AirlineGeeks/Ryan Ewing


Source: AirlineGeeks

Once the pilots that ferried the plane to its temporary home have shut down the aircraft, the final time they’ll do so for an unknown period of time, the storage process begins.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AirlineGeeks/Ryan Ewing


Source: AirlineGeeks

One of the first items of business is to cover any crevices or openings where wildlife can potentially make their home and damage the aircraft’s systems. Engines, landing gear, and other openings are all sealed.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AirlineGeeks/Ryan Ewing


Source: AirlineGeeks

Aircraft here need to be ready to rejoin their fleets as soon as demand rebounds and that means constant care, Ewing reported.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AirlineGeeks/Ryan Ewing


Source: AirlineGeeks

Each jet can be returned to service in about a week after being stored, with mechanics required to perform numerous checklists before they can fly again. “The reactivation period is going to be interesting, to say the least,” Ascent’s Chief Commercial Officer Scott Butler told Ewing.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AirlineGeeks/Ryan Ewing


Source: AirlineGeeks

The increase in arrivals, however, has been good for the local economy in Marana as Ascent has required more mechanics to service the planes.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AirlineGeeks/Ryan Ewing


Source: AirlineGeeks

With a workforce of around 450-strong already, the company is taking on new employees as most aviation firms are issuing furloughs.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AirlineGeeks/Ryan Ewing


Source: AirlineGeeks

Some aircraft that land at Marana, however, may not return to the skies as some airlines are using the downtown to retired older aircraft types.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

Christian Petersen/Getty


Most of the aircraft unlucky enough to stick around once the skies re-open for business will be scrapped for parts to support the aircraft that are still flying.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

Christian Petersen/Getty


Pinal Air Park is seeing new arrivals nearly every day and expects to be at capacity by the end of April after taking in around 500 additional planes since March.

Aircraft boneyard Pinal Air Park covid-19

Grounded airliners at Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin


Source: AirlineGeeks

FlightAware data shows its tenants have grown to include JetBlue Airways…

JetBlue Airways Long Beach

JetBlue Airways Airbus A320 aircraft.

Reed Saxon/AP


Source: FlightAware

Air Canada Rouge…

Air Canada Rouge

An Air Canada Rouge Boeing 767-300.

Philip Pilosian / Shutterstock.com


Source: FlightAware

American Eagle Airlines…

American Eagle

An American Eagle Airlines Embraer ERJ145.

Carlos Yudica / Shutterstock.com


Source: FlightAware

And Brussels Airlines.

Brussels Airlines Airbus A320s

Brussels Airlines Airbus A320 family aircraft.

Francois Lenoir/Reuters


Source: FlightAware

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