When you think of aircraft graveyards your first thought is probably Victorville, California – the Walmart of second hand aircraft – not Alice Springs, home to the only aircraft graveyard in the Southern Hemisphere.
Last month, the Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS) facility – received its first resident an EMB-120 Brasilia. APAS is capable of holding 250 large aircraft up to Code E – A340-600 or B747 – size. Designed as a storage and aircraft on-sale facility, it also has the capability to break down aircraft that reach the end of their service life.
APAS markets itself as a local alternative to the graveyards on the US West Coast, APAS “offering significant fleet efficiencies and costs savings”, however airlines appear reluctant to park aircraft - it has been a three year wait for the Brasilia to arrive.
Alice Springs is seemingly perfect for a graveyard: an ATC tower that can offer 24 hour service if required, no curfew, no noise complaints, and it enjoys year round balmy 30+ degree, low humidity weather.
Yet many airlines in the region aren’t queuing for a park, continuing to send their retiring aircraft direct to Victorville.
Victorville is a Free Trade Zone – there’s no tariffs or quotas – and it is a 24/7 U.S. Customs port of entry. Alice Springs offers neither of these benefits. Pratt & Whitney, GE, Boeing and Federal Express all have large operations at SCLA, and the size of the operations drives economies of scale that makes parking, on-sale or aircraft recycling significantly cheaper. Meanwhile, recycling at Alice couldn’t be cheap. Any broken down aircraft components need to be shipped considerable distance from Alice Springs for processing.
At Victorville, Managing these functions has supported a very lucrative diversification for maintenance/support contractors who kick the tyres and undertake an engine run or two on the stored aircraft. You can have your fleet stripped and painted. While there is a limitless supply of material to support the training colleges that certify ~200 new AME’s per annum.
When the rain does come, Victorville’s storage conditions win out as the only aircraft storage facility in the world with a concrete surface – no aircraft tires will sink into rain-soaked ground. The APAS facility will remain red dirt for the foreseeable future.
Alice Springs may offer good infrastructure support, but it’s hard to see APAS’ competitive benefits. It’s a difficult business convincing airline execs to travel thousands of kilometres when they can go to Walmart.