Air travel

Why 71 planes have been ‘forgotten’ in Spain’s airports

Many companies that went bankrupt in the 2008 financial crisis abandoned their aircraft because they could not afford the cost of moving them

The Boeing 747 abandoned at Valencia airport.
The Boeing 747 abandoned at Valencia airport.Mònica Torres

In Spain’s public airports, there are currently 71 planes in the middle of the long process of being declared abandoned and auctioned off. According to Spain’s airports authority AENA, the Manises airport in the eastern region of Valencia, and the Madrid-Cuatro Vientos airport have the highest number of abandoned planes – 24 and 19, respectively.

Most of these planes belonged to companies that went bankrupt, or to owners who preferred to leave the plane at the airport rather than pay off the accumulated debt for the prolonged parking fee, plus the cost of moving it and turning it into scrap metal. Just transporting a plane can cost more than €60,000, according to industry sources.

The 2008 financial crisis led many companies to declare bankruptcy, and many planes to be abandoned

AENA explains that the high number of abandoned planes in Valencia is due to the fact that its airport “traditionally had a great deal of light aviation activity, due to the presence, years ago, of various pilot schools, a flying club and a considerable number of flights from private companies.” A huge Boeing 747, known popularly as a Jumbo, is the most iconic plane that remains at the airport. It has been at the side of the runway for years. It used to belong to the Albacete-based charter airline Pronair, which ceased operations in 2009, two years after the plane first took off.

The Madrid-Cuatro Vientos Airport has 19 abandoned planes. According to AENA, this is because “it mainly handles general aviation operations and is home to flight schools, training schools for pilots and cabin crew, state services (National Police and Spanish traffic authority DGT), companies that do aerial work, maintenance, train maintenance technicians, manage drones; representatives-installers of aircraft manufacturers, and other associated equipment and service companies.”

This has meant that the two airports have “a larger volume of aircraft with different circumstances which are susceptible to be declared abandoned,” says AENA.

The airport authority has not provided any information on the previous auctions, or whether they have been able to cover the costs involved with keeping the planes. In many of the auctions held previously, no buyers were found.

The planes take up space and do not generate profit Government delegate Domingo Fuentes Curbelo

In 2014, there were 99 abandoned planes in Spanish airports, according to a response given by the conservative Popular Party (PP) government to the then Socialist Senator Domingo Fuentes Curbelo, who is now a government delegate in Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. These planes had an accumulated debt of €2.78 million. The 2008 financial crisis led many companies to declare bankruptcy, and many planes to be abandoned.

“We presented a motion and several initiatives to alleviate this headache for AENA, because [the planes] take up space and do not generate profit,” explains Fuentes Curbelo by phone. An alternative solution is to give the planes to museums, educational centers, or to fire departments, where they can be used in drills. “The [McDonnell Douglas] DC-9 [jet airliner] which the former premier of Catalonia, Josep Tarradellas, was in when he returned to Spain from exile was finally left in the Aviation Museum at Cuatro Vientos [airport],” says Fuentes Curbelo.

English version by Alicia Kember.

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