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March 24, 2020 10:15 AM, EDT

FAA Eyes Places to Park Planes

A ground staffer drives a cart past Delta Air Lines aircraft parked at a field in Victorville, Calif., on March 23.A ground staffer drives a cart past Delta Air Lines aircraft parked at a field in Victorville, Calif., on March 23. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

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EAST ALTON, Ill. — The Federal Aviation Administration wants to know how much room the St. Louis Regional Airport has to park planes.

On March 20, the East Alton airport and others in the FAA’s Great Lakes Region were questioned about potential capacity for aircraft parking. The FAA Great Lakes Region includes airports in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

On March 23, Christina Drouet of the FAA Great Lakes regional administrative office referred questions about the request to the FAA’s public relations office.

In response to the decline in air travel because of the coronavirus, airports all over the world currently have rows of parked planes.

FAA officials this week said they are experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases at air traffic facilities and related offices across the nation. Midway Chicago’s control tower shut down for several hours March 20 because a controller tested positive for COVID-19.

Airlines, already suffering huge losses because of the downtick in ticket sales, cannot conduct even cargo-only flights without FAA air traffic control.

“This is driven as much by the air route traffic control system as it is by the airlines,” said David Miller, St. Louis Regional Airport’s director of aviation.

Delta Air Lines reduced its domestic seat capacity nearly two weeks ago. On March 23, it suspended service to several Latin American and Caribbean countries as well as trans-Atlantic flights.

United Airlines’ website on March 23 stated that, starting April 1, it will reduce its international schedule by about 90%.

On its website March 23, American Airlines said it has implemented a phased suspension of longhaul international flights from the U.S. through May 6. Since March 5, it has extended fee waivers for travel changes and adjusted schedules in response to changes in customer demand.

Overall, American Airlines said it plans to reduce its international capacity by 75% year-over-year through May 6. It anticipates its domestic capacity in April will be reduced by 20% compared to last year, and May’s domestic capacity will be reduced by 30% on a year-over-year basis.

This is not the first time carriers have sought airports to park planes. Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, air carriers parked planes at airports of several sizes when the FAA grounded planes and suspended air traffic control.

“Car rental companies ran out of rental cars,” Miller recalled March 23. “Some people could not get home for 10 days to two weeks.”

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