VICTORVILLE, Calif. (NewsNation Now) — There’s demand for travel with vacation plans made possible again thanks to relaxed COVID-19 restrictions. However, after more than a year of caution amid the coronavirus pandemic, bringing planes and personnel back online isn’t that easy.
Southern California has been home for hundreds of wings in waiting. Just north of San Bernardino, on the outskirts of the Mojave Desert, is Victorville. It’s a beacon for aircraft enthusiasts.
“It’s like seeing a celebrity for the first time when you’re a true aviation fan, said Lisa Christine, ComAv’s director of corporate initiatives.
ComAv Technical Services is America’s leader in airplane storage and redeployment. General Manager William Tollison took NewsNation, the first news crew they’ve ever allowed inside, for a drive to document the 500 acres of sidelined planes at their facility.
“We get retirements constantly, anyway, but half of them are down due to the pandemic,” Tollison said.
When the pandemic hit, about 5,000 commercial planes went offline and hundreds of them have been stored at ComAv.
“We were up over 500 aircraft. This was actually very similar to 9/11 for us; when you get the call, ‘hey, we’ve got a lot of aircraft, we need to make sure they go somewhere,'” Christine said.
With post-pandemic travel making its comeback, many of the perfectly good planes are headed back up, but their return to the skies won’t be immediate.
ComAv’s runways are now full of the world’s most traveled carriers and notorious airplanes, including the tainted Boeing 737 MAX that was housed there during its grounding.
“It could take [from] one week up to 30 days,” Tollison said.
Rigorous maintenance checks must be completed on the planes and airline personnel must complete post-pandemic training before they fly again.
Bruce “Buck” Rodger, a captain for one of the world’s top airlines, wasn’t furloughed in 2020, but the pilot predicts he’ll have to switch planes since international travel remains dormant.
“I’ll have to go to school and get retrained, and there’s a pipeline and a backup there, and it is not just at my airline, it’s at all the airlines,” Rodger said.
After the bumpy ride that was 2020, Christine says, “aviation is coming back to life.”
“We want to see these aircraft flying, 100%,” Tollison added.
Meanwhile, travelers should pack a little patience; the lengthy delays and unexpected stops that some passengers are experiencing right now are due to the coronavirus. There aren’t the aircraft reserves there once were pre-pandemic.
ComAv has doubled in size this year, opening its doors to many of those who lost their jobs in the last year.