The impact of COVID-19 on aviation has been catastrophic, with thousands of aircraft grounded and parked in deserts around the world. As eerie and sad as it is to witness this phenomenon, there’s also a quiet beauty that stirs emotions of nostalgia and hope. Lachlan Burnet shares more on a recent trip to Alice Springs.
“Trust me, you won’t believe it until you see it. Right, let’s go!”
And with those words, our helicopter pilot, Sarah, made some deft touches to the controls, and we ascended into the sky above Alice Springs Airport, where there are currently billions (and billions) of dollars worth of aircraft sitting idle and forlorn waiting to return to the skies due to the current pandemic.
Alice Springs isn’t the only storage facility providing this service at the moment, with large scale operations being provided in the west of the USA and countries such as France and Spain in Europe. However, Alice Springs is the only one in the Southern Hemisphere.
There are currently approximately 140 aircraft at Alice Springs varying in size from small ATR-72s right up to Jetstar 787 Dreamliners and Singapore Airlines’ gargantuan A380s and everything in between.
Sarah’s flying skills were top-notch, and she took us on different heights and trajectories over the aircraft to get many different photos and videos from various angles. The fact that the helicopter has no doors/open sides makes the experience absolutely exhilarating.
It’s not until you actually get up there and see it for yourself that you really get an idea of the massive size of this operation. For me, this revealed itself when I realised that those “6 aircraft tucked away in the corner” were actually Singapore Airlines A380s, which, individually, are massive in size.
By far, the biggest number of aircraft here belong to Cathay Pacific. Still, numerous examples from Hong Kong Express, Cebu Pacific, Scoot, Tiger Air, and even Jetstar and Fiji Airways aircraft make appearances.
You maybe have noticed in that list above that most of the aircraft here belong to Asian carriers. Why is this?
Places such as Singapore and Hong Kong have very high humidity, which isn’t good for aircraft as obviously, they have a lot of metal parts and components. If airlines stored them in humid locations, they’d get rust and corrosion over a period of time – the same as a car. Alice Springs has virtually zero humidity, so it’s a perfect place to store them long-term until they are needed again.
Sarah was more than happy to fly us over any part of the facility we wanted – subject to air traffic control regulations, of course – and we covered all areas in detail and took some amazing pictures and video footage before our time was up.
Upon returning gently to the ground I reflected on the previous 20 minutes flying over the dormant aircraft.
Having been a part of the tourism, travel and aviation sectors for many years now, it was actually quite an emotional experience passing over these sleeping giants not knowing when they will be back to doing what they do best.
I thought about my colleagues and friends in the industry who have had their lives turned upside-down by recent events, and a wave of sadness passed over me.
However, with the advent of vaccines that look like they are incredibly effective, I also felt a glimmer of hope that things will start to return to some normality, although it will be a long road ahead, as we all know.
I was feeling a real mixture of emotions: Sadness as previously mentioned for those who the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted in the past sixteen months; the strangeness of seeing these beautiful machines in the eerie, quiet desert landscape all mixed up with the excitement of being in a helicopter with no doors marvelling at the sheer scale of it all below me and a little bit of hope for the future as well.
As amazing as it was, I certainly hope this scenic flight was a “once in a lifetime experience”, and these beautiful aircraft can be back in the skies sooner rather than later. It’s a day that will live in my memory for a very long time.
If you get the chance, do it for yourself!
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