Alice Springs, Australia, 23 October 2021 – Alice Springs is a small town with a population of approximately 30,000 people located in the Red Centre of Australia. This isolated town is situated in an arid desert environment resulting in hot, dry weather with temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees celsius. These weather conditions are perfect for the long term storage of aircraft. Due to the favourable climate in Alice Springs, there have been over 140 aircraft parked up in long term storage at the Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS) – worth over $9 Billion dollars. The storage facility is currently home to some of the world’s largest passenger jets including the Airbus A380, Airbus A330, Boeing 787 and Boeing 777. Major airlines such as Cathay Pacific Airways, Singapore Airlines, Jetstar and Scoot all have aircraft parked in Alice Springs as well as smaller airlines – including Cebu Pacific Airways, Hong Kong Express and Dragonair. Cathay Pacific Airways currently have the most aircraft stored at the APAS, accounting for 40% of the total aircraft stored, with 70% of their Boeing 777 fleet in long term storage at the APAS.
Alice Springs has become such an ideal location for aircraft to be stored because of two main reasons. Firstly, Alice Springs has large flat areas of land in which many aircraft can be parked up for long periods of time. Secondly, in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong where the climate is wet and humid, stored aircraft are highly susceptible to corrosion, rust and damage. However, the low humidity and hot, dry weather conditions in Alice Springs makes it an excellent location for long term storage as corrosion and rust will not occur. Not only is the weather attractive for long term storage but with a runway length of 2438 metres, APAS is capable of receiving any aircraft type, whether it’s an ATR 72 turboprop or an Airbus A380, the largest commercial aircraft.
Tom Vincent, the owner of the Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS) first started the storage facility in 2014. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the APAS was home to up to 18 aircraft at a time. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic that number has increased nearly 700% due to a 98% drop off in international air travel. With international air travel, restricted airlines were left with no other option but to ground most of their aircraft. At many airports, runways and taxiways were made inactive and became a place of storage for aircraft, but with hundreds of aircraft grounded at once, airports did not have the space to occupy the masses of grounded aircraft. Because of this, the Northern Territory government invested millions of dollars into the APAS to increase storage space. Since the start of the pandemic, the APAS has seen four expansions occur as the demand for storage space in such a fitting climate skyrocketed. Not only does Vincent’s storage facility offer a great location for aircraft storage but APAS also delivers tailored aircraft storage maintenance programs designed to meet customer and OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) requirements. To account for so many aircraft and the enormous amount of maintenance required, Vincent has employed over 100 staff who are tasked with maintaining and looking after all of the aircraft based at the storage facility.
Long term storage isn’t as simple as parking the aircraft and leaving them there until you need them again. Each aircraft must be prepared to be stored for an extended period of time which takes a lot of time and personnel. Once an aircraft arrives at the APAS it takes six engineers two whole days to prepare the aircraft for storage, assuming there are no distractions or issues along the way. However, once an aircraft is ready for long term storage it cannot be left unattended. Depending on the airline, regular maintenance checks can be as frequent as weekly or as long as every three months. The maintenance checks which get carried out are very thorough and tedious. A team of engineers are required to check all the taping and covering of the aircraft. After many days in the hot, dry climate the tape which seals the aircraft can deteriorate allowing air and water to corrode the aircraft. If any tape or covers are damaged they must be replaced to ensure the aircraft remains in peak condition. The aircraft must also be thoroughly inspected for fuel or hydraulic leaks. If any leaks are found they must be fixed to prevent any more fluid from being lost. The fuel condition must also be tested during regular maintenance checks to ensure that it is not contaminated. To do this engineers must drain the fuel so that the quality of the fuel can be tested. The same process follows for hydraulic fluid. The quality of the hydraulic fluid must be tested to ensure that there is no contamination. Contamination of fuel and hydraulic fluid can be quite common amongst stored aircraft as the fluids are not being used and therefore become stagnant. All electrical systems and equipment must also be tested to ensure the electrics are working properly and are not malfunctioning. Basic flight controls such as ailerons and flaps also get tested to make sure they’re working correctly and there are no issues. Another big component of the maintenance check which must be done involves the aircraft tyres. Tyre pressures must be checked to ensure the tyres aren’t becoming flat and to also check that there is no damage to the tyres. Another big issue stored aircraft face is flat-spotted tyres. This occurs when an aircraft doesn’t move for an extended period of time causing damage to the tread of the tyre. To prevent flat spotting of the tyres, aircraft must be moved once a month so that the tires roll and flat-spotting is prevented.
Electing to put an aircraft into long term storage isn’t an easy task and it certainly isn’t a cheap one either. A lot of time, money and effort is required to prepare an aircraft for storage but airlines based in wet, humid conditions aren’t left with much choice when Alice Springs is only a few hours away with ideal conditions, masses of space and highly qualified engineers.
I visited Alice Springs back in May 2021 and had a great time. The APAS is certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity and if you get the chance to go there I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, you can’t go into the APAS but Alice Springs Helicopters offers flights over and around the facility. They’re extremely accommodating and you get a very unique perspective. So if you’ve booked leave and you don’t know where to go, this is your calling!
(Header Image © v1images.com/Joel Baverstock)