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The 'boneyard': Where airlines send old planes to be scrapped

USA Today  2016-05-13 20:10:17

1 of 622 of 623 of 624 of 625 of 626 of 627 of 628 of 629 of 6210 of 6211 of 6212 of 6213 of 6214 of 6215 of 6216 of 6217 of 6218 of 6219 of 6220 of 6221 of 6222 of 6223 of 6224 of 6225 of 6226 of 6227 of 6228 of 6229 of 6230 of 6231 of 6232 of 6233 of 6234 of 6235 of 6236 of 6237 of 6238 of 6239 of 6240 of 6241 of 6242 of 6243 of 6244 of 6245 of 6246 of 6247 of 6248 of 6249 of 6250 of 6251 of 6252 of 6253 of 6254 of 6255 of 6256 of 6257 of 6258 of 6259 of 6260 of 6261 of 6262 of 62AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext SlideROSWELL, N.M. ?American Airlines Flight 9780 arrives from Dallas/Fort Worth and taxis past a line of other MD-80 passenger jets as the morning sun rises over the New Mexico desert on a chilly morning this past winter.But as the jet comes to a stop, there?s no boarding gate or jet bridge. In fact, there are no paying passengers aboard at all.The pilots leave the cockpit and head toward the rear of the plane. They drop the rear stairs from the 140-seat MD-80?s rear emergency exit, and the flight?s four occupants ? two pilots, an American employee and a journalist ? calmly descend the steps into the New Mexico sun.Lines of planes stretch for nearly as far as the eye can see. Many bear familiar logos. Most planes are intact ? but not all of them. Reams of airplane parts lay strewn nearby across the desert floor.?They affectionately call this the boneyard,? says Martin Testorff, one of American?s aircraft storage managers based here.The ?boneyard? is the colloquial term given to aircraft storage facilities where out-of-use planes are sent to be sold, stored or scrapped. Most are in arid locations such as California or Arizona. The one here in New Mexico ? officially the Roswell International Air Center ? is the preferred facility for American.Working in heat of more then 100F, Alejandro Moreno takes an ax to a bulkhead inside a JAL Boeing 747-400 being scrapped at a Roswell on Aug. 5, 2015. (Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Special for USA TODAY)The Center?s sprawling grounds sit adjacent to Roswell?s tiny airport terminal, where American is the only carrier currently offering regular scheduled passenger flights ? three per day to Dallas/Fort Worth and one to Phoenix.But it?s the flow of older, retiring jets that are the real lifeblood of the Roswell International Air Center.Planes can sit indefinitely in storage here, where the dry desert air helps keep the idle aircraft from corroding. Some find second lives, taken in by cargo carriers or by smaller airlines in the developing world. Others face a stark end ? raided for parts or scrapped altogether.Whatever fate awaits, Testorff says, ?We take good care of our airplanes out here.?American isn?t the only carrier to retire its planes to Roswell, one of about a half-dozen such facilities in the United States. Several Boeing 777s from Asian discount carrier Scoot are visible during one recent visit. As is an old Thai Airways Airbus A300 and a Boeing 727 with a long-faded paint job.1 of 542 of 543 of 544 of 545 of 546 of 547 of 548 of 549 of 5410 of 5411 of 5412 of 5413 of 5414 of 5415 of 5416 of 5417 of 5418 of 5419 of 5420 of 5421 of 5422 of 5423 of 5424 of 5425 of 5426 of 5427 of 5428 of 5429 of 5430 of 5431 of 5432 of 5433 of 5434 of 5435 of 5436 of 5437 of 5438 of 5439 of 5440 of 5441 of 5442 of 5443 of 5444 of 5445 of 5446 of 5447 of 5448 of 5449 of 5450 of 5451 of 5452 of 5453 of 5454 of 54AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext SlideThere are private aircraft, too, including a red 1962 Lockheed JetStar JT 12-5 that once flew Elvis, according to American?s staff at Roswell.But most of the planes currently on the ground here have come from American. And for good reason: The airline is phasing out its once-vast fleet of MD-80 and Boeing 757 jets, retiring those older models as part of an aggressive fleet-renewal plan.The retirement of the MD-80 ? long the backbone of American?s domestic fleet ? has been especially prolific. The carrier once had more than 370 ?Super 80s,? as American refers to them, in its fleet. But they?re scheduled to be phased out by 2017, replaced by modern new Boeing and Airbus jets.The airline has been sending its MD-80s to the Roswell boneyard since 2003, with the rate increasing in the past two years to about one retirement a week.The remains of a Thai Airways Airbus A300 are seen at the Roswell “boneyard” on Dec. 4, 2015. (Photo: Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY)The stored planes have become especially important for American for as long as the last MD-80s and 757s remain in its active fleet. Both planes have long been out of production, meaning parts can be difficult to track down if maintenance is needed. This makes their idled brethren in Roswell a crucial link to keeping the others flying.?We store them so we can use the material for the fleet, to keep the fleet flying,? says Paul Bahle, manager of aircraft disposition for American Airlines.While the MD-80 is the current headliner for American at Roswell, the airline retires other aircraft types here too, including 757s and a few 767s.Leased planes are returned ?and we sell as many as the owned assets as we can. But as you can see, we keep quite a lot of them out here,? Bahle says.Beyond the business side of the boneyard, there?s plenty of interest in the facility from aviation enthusiasts.?We get more requests for tours than probably Disneyland,? Testorff says, even though the facility is not open to the public. ?They (people) always want to come see it and experience it for themselves,? adds Bahle. ?To see an airline in kind of a different light. They just want to come out and see the planes in different states of disrepair.?Pat Walsh ? the captain on Flight 9780 that brought yet another American MD-80 to "the Boneyard" ? has been here previously. Even he?s eager for another look. ?All the airlines that have come and gone over the years,? Walsh says, reminiscing about a previous visit. ?Pan Am, TWA and Braniff brought back a lot of memories ? those carriers I remember as a kid.??And now there are American Airlines airplanes as we?re getting new airplanes and retiring our older ones,? he adds, bringing his visit full circle.Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/27ixRHc

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