Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Airplanes Out to Pasture

July 14th, 2009 · 11 Comments

Depression v2.0 may be rough all around, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more than a few economic winners amidst the widespread misery. You already knew about foreclosure specialists and pawn shops; now cast your jealous gaze toward the folks who operate commercial airplane graveyards, where flailing carriers are stashing the aging jets they can no longer afford to keep aloft. And judging by the stats, airlines are far more eager to cast off Airbus models than Boeings—perhaps because of Euro-planes higher maintenance costs:

While Boeing planes may account for 72 per cent of parked aircraft at the end of June 2009, only 11 per cent of those Boeing planes are models still in production (i.e. reasonably new), according to UBS. In contrast about 60 per cent of parked Airbus aircraft are in-production ones. Ouch.

We were initially a bit puzzled as to why airlines keep around out-of-production aircraft at all. But then it dawned on us—rather than sell the planes for scrap and take a medium-sized loss, carriers are gambling that they’ll someday be able to peddle their “junkers” to airlines in the developing world. Which, of course, can lead to some inevitable safety problems (PDF) down the line.


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11 Comments so far ↓

  • Ell

    Beautiful patterns! This needs to be fabric.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Ell: Agreed, there’s something so lovely about the symmetry.

    Have you ever seen Werner Herzog’s “Little Dieter Needs to Fly”? The final shot is in an airplane graveyard—one of the most brilliant cinematic endings I’ve ever seen.

  • citizen (world)

    Perhaps we could follow the lead of the enterprising Swedish entrepreneurs who brought us the Jumbo Hostel. The thought of staying in an airport hotel that is REALLY part of the airport experience has me pretty giddy. This is a must for your next trip to Stockholm.


  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Wow, awesome—and ridiculously cheap for Scandinavian accommodations.

    I guess hostel operators could charge on a sliding scale, depending on what sort of plane you want. I’m sure there’s plenty of backpackers who’d settle for a DC-10 to save some cash.

  • Gramsci

    I know some in China and surrounding parts would be willing to take some of those “corpses” off Airbus’ hands. When I was in China I heard about ex-Soviet cargo planes from the 40’s being used as passenger planes in Mongolia fifty years later. The seats? Lawn chairs strapped to the floor.

  • scottstev

    @Gramsci – That sounds exactly like the repaired plane in “Madagascar II.” They probably flew about as well.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    I think the problem for the First World carriers is that the resale market has dried up as a result of the sliding world economy. Domestic airlines in Central Asia, etc. just don’t have the cash (or even the credit) to purchase our outmoded Airbuses right now. I’m sure the Deltas of the world are hoping the situation turns around right quick, because they’d obv. much rather sell the planes than park ’em in the Mojave.

  • minderbender

    It isn’t clear from the linked articles, but some of these planes could theoretically be returned to service in the US right? I don’t see why not…

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @minderbender: Definitely, though probably only those from more recent production generations (esp. those still in production, which means that new parts are still being manufactured, too). That’s why I thought the Boeing vs. Airbus stat was so interesting–seems like the carriers are far more apt to park in-production Airbuses than in-production Boeings.

    Will have to do another post about avg. age of U.S. commercial aircraft. I remember seeing some figures once, and being quite surprised at the age of our everyday fleet. Not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily–waste not, want not, as long as everything’s kept safe.

  • growler

    Brendan: I came to the comments to post exactly what you beat me to posting about “Little Dieter…” Such a great film, about such a fascinating man, and that ending was wonderful.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @growler: Yeah, that last shot in “Little Dieter…” is epic. Herzog doesn’t mess around when it comes to finales–also love that last shot in “Aguirre,” the one with the monkeys invading the raft:


    You ever catch this site? Anti-“Rescue Dawn,” created by the brother of Eugene DeBruin. He’s not real happy with Werner, to put it mildly:


    Includes interview footage with the other survivor of the camp–one of the Thai prisoners, now living in Bangkok.