Pilots beware: some runways are now parking lots

Mar 30, 2020

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Sometime, usually in elementary school, kids will try to stump their friends with the question: Why do you park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?

Now, commercial pilots can add a new layer to the rhetoric: What happens when you have to park your jets on a runway?

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As airlines increasingly scale back their operations in response to the coronavirus-related demand slump, they increasingly have to find new places to store their aircraft.

That dilemma has become so widespread that the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) on “temporary parking of overflow aircraft” last week, urging pilots, airlines and airport operators to coordinate with one another and use extreme caution at facilities that have planes parked in space that’s usually used for takeoffs and landings.

Related: Airlines, airports shift terminals as passenger traffic craters.

Such conditions exist at a number of airports around the country, and not just the usual suspects either.

Airlines have parked planes in Victorville, California and Marana and Tucson in Arizona, of course. That’s not unusual; those airports are known as places where airlines park airplanes they don’t need. But Delta and American have both sent planes to wait out the pandemic in the Southeast, in Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama, respectively. American also sent planes to storage in Pittsburgh and Hawaiian Airlines parked some aircraft on a runway in Honolulu. In Atlanta, an entire runway was given over to idled Delta jets.

The FAA warned in its notice that such parking arrangements can make regular ground operations riskier. Pilots at airports using runways for parking need to exercise extra caution, the SAFO said, because aircraft parked on runways increase the chance of accidents.

Related: TSA by the numbers: passenger volume down 90% in coronavirus slump.

For now though, amid low demand, it seems keeping planes moving is less of an immediate concern than figuring out where to put the ones that are no longer in use.

Read more: 5 key elements of the $50 billion airline aid package.

Featured photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

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