It’s mid-April and any threat of winter weather – even the very rare early spring occurrence -- in Philadelphia is past. So, what are planes doing on the deicing pad at the far west end of the airfield at Philadelphia International Airport, an area that usually sees activity in the winter months with aircraft lined up to be bathed in fluid to clear them of ice before take-off?
Well, since the COVID-19 health crisis has grounded so many flights, airlines are parking idle aircraft at airports where they patiently wait to be re-introduced into service transporting travelers to destinations near and far. The Airport Operations team has been coordinating with the airlines to accommodate requests to keep planes at PHL during the COVID-19 situation, which has reduced flight operations in Philadelphia by between 80-90 percent.
Currently, PHL has fielded requests to park 10 aircraft from American Airlines, the largest carrier here, 4 from Frontier Airlines, the second largest carrier at PHL, and 2 from Spirit Airlines. All the aircraft accommodations have been for narrow body aircraft.
In addition to the deicing pad, the airport has reserved aircraft parking spaces at Terminal A-West and the East end of the airfield.
“We try to park aircraft so they can be easily accessible to their airlines’ maintenance crews because the aircraft still need to be serviced while being parked,” said Steve Belton, Airport Operations Supervisor. “The situation is very fluid, and I expect to get more requests. We still can accommodate more aircraft; with the apron modifications we’ve made we can hold a total of around 25 to 30 depending on the aircraft type.”
The number of planes parked at PHL is drastically lower than other airports some of which have up to 100 stationed there.
“Since we have a smaller footprint, I think most airlines are using airports that have more space to park larger amounts of aircraft,” Belton said.
That’s actually a good thing.
“We’re probably in better shape than many other airports who have had to close runways or taxiways (to accommodate parked planes),” said John Glass, Airport Operations Superintendent. “Keeping less aircraft here allows us flexibility if there is work we would need to do that could be hampered by too many parked aircraft. It also allows American to relocate their aircraft to/from here for maintenance in their hangar. Also, when things begin to return to normal, the airlines want their key hubs to be able to get up to speed quickly and too many aircraft could hurt their ability to do that and get resources in the proper places.”
Belton expects planes to be parked at PHL for “at least a month or more.” Thus far, PHL has not received any parking requests from airlines that do not operate here.
With air travel deeply diminished by restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 health situation, both aircraft operations and passenger traffic are down by between 80-90 percent at PHL. On a normal day, there are nearly 500 flight departures to 140 domestic and international destinations and an average of 88,000 total passengers pass through the airport. Right now, it is unclear when flight activity will pick up as the airlines will need to navigate the complicated web of various jurisdictional COVID-19 restrictions and situations in order to resume service. When that time arrives, PHL will be ready to assist its airline partners.