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The art of parking lots of grounded aircraft during a pandemic

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The art of parking lots of grounded aircraft during a pandemic

When the COVID crisis ramped up last March we were approached by several of our airline partners who asked if we could store their aircraft at the airport. 

We of course agreed and immediately got to work on how many we could house and, more importantly, where we were going to put them.  

Although during peak times like the summer holidays we receive a lot of aircraft on a daily basis, they're mainly on a turnaround basis as they land, disembark passengers, fuel up, clean and restock, welcome new passengers on board and then take off.  

Unlike normal operations, for aircraft to be stored indefinitely they wouldn’t be parked in the normal position. For example, if parking overnight ready to go the following day an aircraft would be positioned at a stand so it could make all the preparations required pre-flight.  

This allowed us to carry out dense parking procedures, which enabled our airfield operations and engineering teams to space aircraft closer together to be able to house more aircraft.  

As we accepted aircraft from several airline partners, our teams had to physically measure the concrete space available across our airfield to determine how many we could take and where they would be positioned. We couldn’t mix and match, so aircraft were grouped within their airline and a separate area of our airfield was allocated.   

At the peak of the pandemic, Glasgow Airport accepted 44 additional aircraft to be stored on its airfield as global air travel was all but grounded. 

The largest volume of aircraft the airport has ever had needed to park up and the calculations required to determine the correct spacing changed frequently as more and more requests came in. 

Once we had our dimensions, we used the tried and tested way of working out the required space by using a 1/100 scale map of the airfield with acetate drawings of aircraft, which we moved around until we came up with the correct plan to park the all aircraft safely.  

During this phase, many things had to be considered including fire vehicle access, wind direction, pavement weight limits, engine covers to avoid birds nesting and additional wheel chocks for the extra aircraft being stored.  We also learned that when aircraft are stored, the engineers had to carry out frequent tests and checks such as engine runs and wheel turning.  Our overall parking plan had to incorporate solutions to these issues. 

Once this was done, it was time to bring in the airlines’ operational, handling and engineering teams and we sat around the table to run through the plan and make any additional final changes. This was a fantastic learning process for us all.  

When the plan was signed off it was sent to the airline pilots who would be bringing the aircraft to Glasgow Airport to ensure everyone knew their role. As the aircraft arrived one by one it was amazing to see such an in-depth and carefully thought out plan come together - as they said in the A-team.   

As time went on it was clear that our original plan designed to store aircraft for around two to three months would need to be extended into the winter months. We had to go back and revise the plan due to the onset of the cold nights and the westerly Scottish winds. This meant we re-position some aircraft due to the changing weather conditions.  

Over the last 14 months, we have moved the stored aircraft to numerous different areas of the airfield as demand frequently changed. Today we have around 20 aircraft park up, but hopefully with the safe restart of aviation beginning later this month we’ll soon see them take to the skies once again.  

Glasgow Airport