The skies are eerily empty these days, presenting a new challenge for the world's embattled airlines as they work to safeguard thousands of grounded planes parked wingtip to wingtip on runways and in storage facilities.
More than 16,000 passenger jets are grounded worldwide, according to industry researcher Cirium, as the coronavirus obliterates travel and puts unprecedented strain on airline finances. Finding the right space and conditions for 62% of the world's planes and keeping them airworthy have suddenly become priorities for 2020.
Aircraft can't simply be dusted back into action. They need plenty of work and attention while in storage, from maintenance of hydraulics and flight-control systems to protection against insects and wildlife — nesting birds can be a problem. Then there's humidity, which can corrode parts and damage interiors. Even when parked on runways, planes are often loaded with fuel to keep them from rocking in the wind and to ensure tanks stay lubricated.
"Nobody thought this magnitude of preservation would need to be done," said Anand Bhaskar, chief executive officer of New Delhi-based Air Works, a plane repair and maintenance company. "Parking space is a problem. These are logistics nightmares which we're trying to work around."
The number of passenger jets in service is the lowest in 26 years, according to Cirium. Managing such large-scale storage is a challenge for an industry already in crisis, with airlines worldwide slashing capacity to close to zero or not flying at all. The International Air Transport Association has warned that revenue from flying passengers could drop by nearly a third of a trillion dollars this year and that 25 million jobs are at risk.