Plane-storage field lands lots of business

In wake of attacks, airlines seek space for grounded aircraft

September 28, 2001|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

The embattled airline industry's plan to slash flights and ground hundreds of planes is grim news. But not for Trevor Van Horn, president of Evergreen Air Center Inc.

Business at Van Horn's Evergreen, which bills itself as the world's largest commercial aircraft storage facility, in Marana, Ariz., is about to boom.

Major domestic and international airline companies could send Evergreen as many as 100 planes for storage during the next two to three months, Van Horn said. That represents more than a 62 percent increase in the number of planes the company will house.

"It is heating up," Van Horn said. "Clearly, when [the airline industry] downturns, it is good business for us."

Van Horn's storage enterprise is benefiting from the commercial airline industry's upheaval. The industry was shaken Sept. 11 when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Airports across the country were shut down for days, and passengers were too frightened to fly.

Since then, the industry has lost millions of dollars and it has responded with massive layoffs and by slashing the number of nationwide flights.

All of this means the airlines have to find somewhere to put planes they aren't using.

Edmund Greenslet, publisher of The Airline Monitor, an industry trade journal, said the large domestic airlines have about 3,800 planes.

Some of the planes will spend more time on the Tarmac and less time in the air, he said.

"It just means you don't make one or two of those flights that you used to do," Greenslet said. "That's a quick way to get capacity out. The airplane sits on the ground two hours instead of operating."

Airlines also might end up selling planes, said John B. Rogers, an analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co., an investment banking firm based in Great Falls, Mont. He said many airplanes are leased from units of companies such as General Electric Co. and Boeing Co., and they might end up with the planes.

"It is a little early to say what is going to happen here," Rogers said. "Does the flying public come back? Inevitably, with the cuts we have seen, there are probably going to be some parked airplanes."

The airlines will either park or get rid of older airplanes first, Greenslet said.

He estimates that anywhere from 500 to 1,000 planes could end up in storage because they are outdated.

"They are not only old, they are inefficient in terms of fuel consumption," Greenslet said. "They are ... overdue for retirement in many people's eyes, but you keep using the stuff ... because it is still safe."

Many of these planes could end up in airline parking lots like the one run by Van Horn, which is between Tucson and Phoenix, Greenslet said.

Evergreen boasts conditions that are good for aircraft storage.

The annual precipitation in Marana is 11.05 inches, average winds are 5 to 20 knots, and average temperature ranges from 54.1 to 81.5 degrees. Also, the air is clean.

The company, which has been in the business for 26 years, uses armed security officers who patrol the grounds in marked and unmarked vehicles.

There is plenty of ground to cover because Evergreen has 1,600 acres, but it uses a fourth of the space.

It needs the vast space because it stores everything from hulking 747s to the smaller 737s.

Evergreen houses 30 planes on its Tarmac and another 130 on parking areas paved with gravel or concrete. It charges, on average, from $750 a month for a narrow-body plane to $1,500 for a wide-body plane, Van Horn said.

Some planes are stored for only a short time. Van Horn's employees fire up the engines once a week, cycle the gears and make sure the flaps are working.

They do everything with a stored plane but fly it, Van Horn said.

Other planes go into deep storage, which lasts from six months to a year. Fluids are emptied, gears and wheels are covered with tape and paper to keep out dust, and the plane is sealed tight.

Van Horn said the company is prepared to do a brisk business.

"We just received an order for four more positions for 747s," Van Horn said. "I think we will hit our [profit-forecast] number."

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