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Planet Money: The Process Of Getting Planes Out Of Storage

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When the pandemic hit last spring, people just stopped flying. And all those un-flown planes had to go into special storage facilities around the world. Now with vaccination rates rising, they need to get them out again. Easier said than done, though. Here's Sally Herships and David Gura from The Indicator podcast from Planet Money.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DAVID GURA: When you're taking a plane out of storage, the first thing you're going to do is give that plane a once-over.

DAVE BUSHY: If it's in a humid environment, I can tell you it's going to smell different.

GURA: Dave Bushy ran operations at two major airlines. He was the president of a regional carrier. And he says when a plane goes into storage, workers are going to litter its cabin with bags of desiccate. Think of those packets of silica that are in your seaweed snacks that capture moisture to keep that seaweed crispy. Once the plane is aired out, it's time to make sure that nothing is damaged.

BUSHY: Have you had any infestation of anything - bugs, rodents? You do not want a mouse or family of mice chewing at your wires.

SALLY HERSHIPS: There is a lot of prescribed maintenance. And the storage facility is going to try to seal up everything, including the engines, to keep stuff out. You also don't want any birds' nests growing in your plane's engine.

BUSHY: I've seen airplanes parked that, you know, are aviaries in many respects.

GURA: Dave says it's important to remember that storing a plane is not just about storing the actual plane. Storage also affects staffing. You no longer need pilots and flight crews and maintenance technicians. So when you store one, you have to think about what will have to happen when you bring that plane back online. You're going to need that staff. And a lot of them will require training before they're able to fly again.

HERSHIPS: Today, those same managers who decided to put some planes in storage are looking at the numbers again. And they're trying to figure out what the airline needs.

BUSHY: Again, the planning and scheduling guys say, look; our crystal ball tells us four months from now, we're going to need these aircraft back in service, either a whole fleet or part of a fleet.

HERSHIPS: And they're going to start bringing them back as if they were receiving deliveries of new aircraft, not all at once. Getting a plane ready to go back into service can take anywhere from a few days to a month if it's been in storage for a while.

GURA: What's tough is it's hard to predict just how much demand there's going to be. There's no playbook here. Who can say how many people are really going to be willing and ready to start cramming into crowded airports and planes and traveling to unfamiliar places? Richard Evans is an aviation consultant and says that airlines can do a lot of planning on their own. But they need help. They need information about when countries are going to allow international travel.

RICHARD EVANS: We can't just suddenly start flying 100% of our fleet tomorrow. We need to be given some guidance by governments as to when we can start flying again.

GURA: If you look at planes stored as a barometer, it seems like they're confident they're going to get that information. Richard's consultancy keeps track of how many planes are parked, and that number has been cut in half since the peak of the pandemic.

HERSHIPS: Sally Herships.

GURA: David Gura, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIVD LOW SKY'S "TAKE 6") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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