‘Airplane boneyards’ are more than places where planes go to die

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max airplanes are parked on the tarmac after being grounded at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville on March 28. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max airplanes are parked on the tarmac after being grounded at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville on March 28. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

This story originally appeared on Marketplace. You can listen to Marketplace live on WHYY 90.9 FM Monday through Friday at 6:30 p.m.

There are 72 Boeing 737 Max aircraft sitting on the ground in the United States while the company waits on regulators to approve software fixes. But they’re not clogging up the taxiways at passenger airports.

Southwest, which has a fleet of 34 Maxes, has flown many of them to Victorville for storage at the Southern California Logistics Airport. It’s one of a handful of giant airplane parking lots colloquially known as “aircraft boneyards.” Captured in aerial photographs, these storage facilities look stunning, with planes packed in, nose to tail, wingtip to wingtip.

“These are areas where an airline which is getting rid of aircraft, taking them out of service, will send them for storage,” said Chuck Horning, who teaches aviation maintenance science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Here in the United States, they’re typically out West, usually in arid desert regions, so you don’t have issues with corrosion.”

The Victorville airport is on the site of what was George Air Force Base, 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles, on the edge of the Mojave Desert.

Some planes eventually meet their ends here, ripped apart by crews operating heavy equipment before being sent for recycling.

Some 200 or more planes on the site are old — there are a bunch of Boeing 747s, which American carriers don’t fly anymore. But there are also a few much newer planes, stored here because deals have fallen through or because they’re in for maintenance. Victor Valley College runs a two-year program in aircraft and engine maintenance in a facility on the airport to train the next generation of repair technicians.

Victor Valley College student Valery Castañeda learns skills like riveting, patching and aircraft repair. (Marketplace)

Southern California Logistics Airport plays a vital role in the aviation ecosystem, providing much-needed space away from passenger airports. It’s also crucial for the local economy. Over 2,000 people are employed on the facility, replacing some of the investment in the area that was lost when the Air Force base closed in the early 1990s.

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