Aircraft Graveyards: Where Planes Go to Retire

January 11, 2024 3 mins to read

Aircraft graveyards, often referred to as boneyards, are fascinating and somewhat eerie places where planes go to retire. These vast storage facilities are the final resting places for thousands of aircraft that have served their time in the skies. Located primarily in arid regions where the dry climate slows corrosion, these graveyards play a crucial role in the aviation industry, serving multiple purposes including storage, maintenance, and recycling of aircraft parts. Let’s explore the significance of these graveyards, how they operate, and what happens to planes in their final days.

The Role of Aircraft Graveyards

Storage and Preservation: Aircraft graveyards store planes that are temporarily out of service. Airlines may park aircraft due to fluctuating demand, awaiting sale, lease return, or retirement. The dry conditions of desert graveyards help preserve the aircraft, making it easier to bring them back into service if needed.

Parts Reclamation: Many stored planes are sources of spare parts. Parts that are still in good condition can be salvaged and used to repair and maintain other aircraft, making aircraft graveyards valuable resources for airlines and aircraft maintenance companies.

Recycling: When an aircraft is deemed too old or uneconomical to fly again, it is dismantled, and materials such as aluminum, titanium, and other metals are recycled. This process helps in recovering valuable resources and reducing the environmental impact of discarding these massive machines.

Research and Training: Some retired planes are used for research purposes or for training flight crews and emergency response teams. These aircraft provide realistic environments for safety training, evacuation drills, and other educational purposes.

Famous Aircraft Graveyards

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base: Located near Tucson, Arizona, it’s one of the most well-known aircraft boneyards in the world. It serves as the storage facility for the United States military and government aircraft. The desert climate makes it an ideal location for preserving aircraft.

Mojave Air and Space Port: Not only does it serve as a commercial space launch facility, but Mojave also hosts a large boneyard for commercial aircraft. It’s a place where planes are stored, scrapped, or repurposed, and it’s also known for its role in aerospace testing and development.

The Process of Decommissioning

Decommissioning an aircraft is a meticulous process. Initially, all hazardous materials are removed, followed by the extraction of reusable or sellable parts. The remaining structure is then cut up and recycled. This process can take weeks or even months, depending on the size of the aircraft and the complexity of the dismantling process.

Environmental and Economic Impact

Aircraft graveyards reflect the aviation industry’s commitment to sustainability and recycling. By salvaging and reusing parts, the industry reduces waste and conserves resources. The recycling of metals and other materials from old aircraft also contributes to a more sustainable approach to manufacturing new planes, highlighting the industry’s efforts to minimize its environmental footprint.

Aircraft graveyards are more than just storage sites for retired planes; they are integral to the aviation industry’s lifecycle, serving critical functions from parts reclamation to recycling. They represent the end of the line for many aircraft but also symbolize the ongoing cycle of aviation, where the old makes way for the new while contributing to sustainability and innovation. As the aviation industry continues to evolve, these graveyards will undoubtedly continue to play a vital role in its ecosystem.