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What happens to commercial aircraft that are no longer used?

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Quick Answer

Smaller airlines or scrap companies buy commercial aircraft that are no longer used, or the owners put the planes in airplane graveyards for storage until needed. Arizona, California, Texas and New Mexico have the largest storage facilities for retired planes in the United States.

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Full Answer

When an airline carrier or leasing agent decommissions part of a fleet that it owns, airlines in developing countries traditionally buy the planes. As air travel has evolved to the far reaches of the world, more options are available for overseas airlines to finance newer planes, making resale of deactivated planes a declining option for major carriers in the United States.

When used for scrap, companies that buy planes for parts can sell the aircraft’s engines for the initial purchasing price. The avionics from the cockpit and seats are other sought-after items on the open market that yield a high profit.

Air carriers store planes that aren’t sold to other airlines or for parts in aircraft graveyards in the Southwest, as the dry conditions of the desert prevent corrosion and the hard clay of the ground keeps the aircraft in optimal condition. These locations also store working planes when air travel declines until the demand increases and the aircraft return to active duty.

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