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Not A Cheerful Sight

Parking spaces are quickly filling up at an airfield in the Mojave Desert that is the last stop for many out-of-service jetliners.

More than 200 airliners are being stored there, surpassing the number at the peak of the airline industry slump during the recession in the early 1990s. More jets arrive practically every day, evidence of how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have thrown the business into a tailspin.

"I had 17 come in last Monday, and then the next day I had six come in," said Dan Sabovich, general manager of the Mojave Airport.

The jets sit out in the open, on the desert floor. Some will stay for a few months, until they are pressed back into service. Others will remain until they are sold or disassembled for scrap or parts.

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Some are kept in flyable condition by mechanics; others are left untouched.

Deep Cuts At United
United Airlines is eliminating nearly 200 flights from its daily schedule.

The new schedule revises departure times to curtail early-morning and late-night flying.

"We'll still do some flying after 7 p.m. and some before 7 a.m., just not as much," explains airline spokesman Joe Hopkins.

The announcement Monday followed by only a few days the airline's decision to discontinue its United Shuttle operation and roll some of those flights into United and United Express schedules.

Overall, United's new flight schedule has about 27 percent fewer departures than before Sept. 11.

Source: CBS/AP

Mojave, 100 miles north of Los Angeles, is one of only a few sites around the nation with the space to store giant jetliners. Others include a nearby former Air Force base and an airfield near Phoenix.

Most are in desert regions because, without the harsh winters or humid air of other climes, a properly sealed plane can be stored there for years. The cost is almost negligible: $250 to $500 a month.

On a recent day at Mojave, more than $1 billion worth of behemoths - DC-10s, L1011s, 727s, 737s and giant 747s and 757s - stood in ranks on the desert floor, their windows and engine openings sealed with tape and foil in a process known as "pickling."

Sun glittered on their aluminum skins or picked out the bright red, white and blue paint jobs of Continental and other airlines.

Many airlines are using the downturn to accelerate the retirement of older planes, according to Michael Boyd, president of the Boyd Group an Evergreen, Colo., aviation consulting firm.

United, Delta and other major U.S. airlines have retired or are planning to retire more than 400 jets in the next six months, according to the Boyd Group. That is about 6 percent of the estimated 6,800 planes owned by domestic airlines.

"They go out there, they pickle them, and the people who own them hope for a miracle and pray they won't be taking a bath," Boyd said.

On Thursday, President Bush said in a speech that "people are getting back on airplanes." But some who run jetliner storage yards were skeptical.

"This is going to be 18 months to two years, in our assessment, to get back to normality," said Trevor Van Horn, president of Evergreen Air Center in Marana, Ariz., outside Tucson.

About 50 jetliners were parked at the center, and Van Horn predicted as many as 150 more will arrive from all over the world in the next three months.

By Robert Jablon © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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