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Planes grounded due to coronavirus find new homes at Alice Springs airport facility

ABC Health logo ABC Health 30/07/2020 By Samantha Jonscher
a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: Another 30 aircraft are expected to land at the storage facility by the end of August. (ABC News: Samantha Jonscher) © Provided by ABC Health Another 30 aircraft are expected to land at the storage facility by the end of August. (ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

Finding a place to park your car can be challenging, but for airlines around the world, finding a place to park their grounded aircraft is much more difficult.

Tom Vincent owns Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS), the only commercial aircraft storage facility in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Let's just say spots are definitely in demand," he said.

"As soon as extra spots for storage come online, there are aircraft filling those spots."

Alice Springs' dry climate makes it the ideal home for the business which aims to keep grounded aircraft in the best condition possible while airlines wait out the coronavirus pandemic.

"Lots of aircraft are stored in less ideal environments, dealing with humidity and corrosion," Mr Vincent said.

There are 44 aircraft currently in storage at the Alice Springs airport facility, with another 30 expected to land by the end of August.

Before the pandemic, APAS stored up to 18 aircraft at a time.

Yesterday, the NT Government announced it would invest a further $3.5 million in the storage facility, which Mr Vincent said would allow the company to store 100 aircraft by October.

This money is on top of a $1 million infrastructure grant the Territory Government provided to APAS earlier this year to help it expand.

"It's been a long time flying under the radar, we started in 2014," Mr Vincent said.

"Definitely we've seen a heighted demand, but on average though, through normal cycles, up to 8 per cent of the commercial fleet is stored at any given time."

Constant maintenance required

Mr Vincent said aircraft storage wasn't just about providing space for planes, it required constant maintenance in line with a number of international regulatory frameworks.

The aircraft are protected by a heat-resistant material to reduce cabin temperatures and protect against corrosion.

Once a plane has been set up for storage, it is subject to more than 100 maintenance checks in a 12-month period.

"It's a pretty complex job, huge volume of work and it keeps our engineers busy," Mr Vincent said.

"We have nearly 50 employees here full time maintaining the aircraft, ensuring they are in a condition where they can be returned to service, when we all desperately want to return to travel."

Mr Vincent said that number was expected to double as the facility's capacity increased.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner defended the Territory Government's $4.5 million investment, and said the industry would outlast the pandemic.

"I believe as people discover the quality of the work here in Alice Springs, this is a significant asset now, people do need their aircraft stored regularly, it's not just a coronavirus-related issue," Mr Gunner said.

"But obviously, right now more planes are grounded than are flying … once its proved up, lots of people will use it. This will be a facility that survives beyond coronavirus."

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