Coronavirus has hit the travel and aviation industry the hardest. Borders closed to holiday makers and airlines around the world have grounded their fleets. Airline executives have been faced with stark choices as they prepare to emerge from the global economic abyss.
Which aircraft will return from storage to fly fare paying passenger again and which aircraft have reached their ‘end of life’ or ‘end-of-use’ and be sent for scrapping and parts reclamation?
The result of this decision-making process can be seen at two neighbouring airports in the Vale of Glamorgan. Cardiff Airport (CWL) is the gateway to Wales, handling over 1.7 million passengers a year with over 50 direct routes and more than 900 connecting destinations worldwide through hubs including Doha, Amsterdam, and Dublin.
Just 3 miles down the road is the former MOD airbase of St Athan (DGX) which became a civilian airfield in April 2019 after it was taken over by the Welsh Government and Cardiff Airport. For more than 80 years, the St Athan site has operated as an RAF base.
Cardiff Airport is currently closed for commercial operations due to the government’s travel restrictions. However, the west side of the airport apron is full with meticulously parked British Airways Boeing 747-400’s filling the space between the airport terminal and the British Airways Maintenance Cardiff (BAMC) facility.
These majestic aircraft dominate the apron and are being kept in flight ready condition by BAMC for a much-anticipated return to our skies. However, the long-term future for this aircraft type is not so positive as airline executives around the world seek to build a profitable future with more fuel efficient two-engine aircraft.
Pictured: British Airways Boeing 747-400's parked in front of BAMC.
Pictured: Several British Airways 747-400's parked on the west apron.
In the case of British Airways they need to maintain their highly profitable 747-400 routes and operating slots at their London Heathrow (LHR) base and at the major airports of New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD), Boston (BOS), Washington DC (WAS), Seattle (SEA), San Francisco (SFO), Toronto (YYZ), Johannesburg (JNB), Dubai (DXB), Riyadh (RUH), and Kuwait (KWI). British Airways will seek to maintain 747-400 operations on these routes until their new Airbus A350-1000, Boeing 787-10 and Boeing 777-900 aircraft are delivered.
The story down the road at St Athan (DGX) however could not be more contrasting. The former RAF base is home to eCube Solutions a world leading and rapidly growing aviation business providing a comprehensive suite of premium value services for aircraft redeliveries and end of life projects.
You only have to look around the apron to see a wide selection of decommissioned commercial aircraft such as the Airbus A319, A320, A330, A340 and Boeing 737, 767, 777 and 747’s all waiting patiently to be dismantled and broken down for spare parts. This is the final resting place for these giant workhorses that once faithfully served airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, Gulf Air, Air Mauritius, TAP, Iberia, Scandinavian, Swiss, AndoluJet, Windrose, Air India, and Small Planet.
British Airways has previously flown it’s older 747-400’s to St Athan (DGX) over the past few years for scrapping, starting with their 24-year-old G-CIVx registration series. Each 747 (in order of appearance) will meet a similar fate until the entire line is no more - the end date for the process currently estimated to be November 2022. The estimated timeline was set prior to the grounding of world airline fleets due to the coronavirus, so the exact timetable remains unclear today.
Pictured: British Airways Boeing 747-436 G-CIVG just before final breakdown.
Pictured: The lime green tail is Jin Air Boeing 737-86N. Arrived at DGX from Seoul Incheon (ICN) via Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO) on 07/06/2020.
There are numerous commercial aircraft awaiting their fate at eCube Solutions including several British Airways aircraft. A number are here as they have simply reached their true end-of-life service, but for many others, their final resting place in South Wales was probably the result of an emotionless accountant in their relentless attempt to reduce costs.
For many, it’s a crying shame to watch good viable planes come to die. For companies such as eCube Solutions though, it offers a unique opportunity to become a world leader in this rapidly growing industry.
For those who cannot get to St Athan and see this spectacle for themselves, can watch a 3-part documentary series called ‘Plane Reclaimers’ detailing the arrival of three different aircraft and their journey through the scrapping process.
Episode 1: Plane Reclaimers
The team are faced with a tight deadline as they attempt to dismantle a highly anticipated Airbus A319 coming in from Abu Dhabi. Watch online.
Episode 3: Plane Reclaimers
The team’s morning banter is interrupted by a retired Airbus A320 arriving from Estonia. Plus, an unusual request comes in from a diving instructor for a highly durable item. Watch online.
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