Alice Springs adds four Airbus A380s to its plane storage stash during coronavirus pandemic

Press/Media: Expert Comment


This week, four Airbus A380s touched down in Alice Springs for the first time.

  • Low humidity means Alice Springs is the perfect place to maintain parked planes
  • A growing fleet of planes are being stored adjacent to Alice Springs airport
  • Last year Airbus announced it would halt production of the A380 in 2021 

The A380s are the latest planes to be mothballed in Alice Springs after six Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes— the model grounded globally after two crashes which killed a total of 346 people — touched down at the airport last year. The 580-tonne machines caught the eyes of many locals as they flew in for their Central Australian holiday on Sunday, in a rare direct flight from Singapore. With no word on when international travel will resume, the A380s might not be the last planes with a parking space in Alice Springs. And it isn't just residents who are excited by this chapter in aviation history. The latest batch of aircraft arrivals is another coup for the new Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS) facility in Alice Springs, which is spruiking the Red Centre as a leading storage port for airlines across the region. "This is a fantastic opportunity for us," Alice Springs Airport general manager Dave Batic said. "Obviously it's not the ideal circumstances around the current situation with COVID-19, however this is a great opportunity for Alice Springs," he said.

Dry in the Red Centre

Much like the famous Arizona aircraft boneyard in the United States, the Red Centre's dry climate makes it a suitable place for long-term aircraft storage. "It's been suggested since about the year 2000 that Alice was our equivalent of the deserts in the US," aviation industry analyst Neil Hansford said. Unlike the A380s' home in Singapore, Alice Springs has low humidity year-round, which negates the risk of moisture corrosion. "The humidity of Singapore [would be] a real problem for what are composite and aluminium aeroplanes," Mr Hansford said.

Low humidity in Alice Springs makes it a suitable place to store expensive aircraft. (ABC News: Neda Vanovac) The planes will be kept in Alice Springs at the APAS facility adjacent to the main runway of the airport. "There's been a lot of preparation work over the last month that's gone in with our customer, and also working with government agencies," APAS managing director Tom Vincent said. 

Mr Vincent says APAS follows stringent maintenance protocols to keep aircraft in "nearly flight-ready" condition. "It's quite a process to put the aircraft into storage, [but] once the storage-induction check is complete, we'll then start carrying out the periodic checks every week," he said. The planes are painstakingly sealed airtight, covers are put over the engines to protect them from the elements, and then once every couple of weeks they'll be turned on to keep them in condition. "We're here to … keep the aircraft in a nearly flight-ready condition, and then return them back to service," Mr Vincent said. 

APAS boosts its workforce

Including the four A380s, there are now about 20 aircraft in storage at Alice Springs Airport and there may be more on the horizon because of ongoing turbulence in international travel due to COVID-19. It has meant APAS has had to increase its workforce and its spending on equipment.

"We're currently doing our infrastructure expansion, which will lift our capacity by up to 60 to 70 aircraft," Mr Vincent said. "The demand is such that we see the need to expand that infrastructure to support our customers." Earlier this year, the Northern Territory Government announced it would invest $1 million into APAS to boost its storage capacity.

An evolution in how we travel

With falling demand from airlines, last year Airbus announced it would halt production of the A380 in 2021.

Monash University Professor Greg Bamber, co-author of a book about the aviation industry, said while A380s were popular with passengers, the rising popularity of "point-to-point" flights over transit flights, and the cost of fuel, saw a shift in industry priority. "Passengers like being able to fly direct without having to transit through a hub," he said.

Mr Hansford said COVID-19 could signal the end for the aircraft. s us to contemplate what we've wanted for many years: non-stop services," he said. "Years ago, you were stopping three times to get to Melbourne [from London]. Now, you're going to do it in one flight."

But Professor Bamber said the A380s could be a preferred option if social distancing continued once the COVID-19 pandemic passed. "It has a lot of space, so it would be possible to space people out to a greater extent in the A380 than in smaller aircraft."


Seating 550 passengers, the A380s are imposing figures on the ground or in the sky.

The double-decker planes are an imposing sight at Alice Springs airport. (ABC News: Mitchell Abram)

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Period28 Apr 2020

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  • Airbus A380
  • Singapore Airlines
  • COVID-19
  • Alice Springs
  • Emirates
  • aeroplanes
  • airports
  • social distancing
  • pandemic
  • aircraft