Airplane graveyards

There is no doubt that the aviation industry is an expensive one – what with its daily operating costs dependent on that volatile commodity, fuel and its key operational equipment costing hundreds of millions of rand - per plane that is.

But there’s a reason we fork out for that plane ticket isn’t there – Flying is just so damn convenient.

No money to burn…

It’s clear that fleet upgrades are paramount to a healthy balance sheet in the aviation industry.

kulula, operated by British Airways subsidiary Comair, is a prime example. The airline's R3.5-billion investment in four new Boeing 737-800 Next Generation aircraft forms an integral part of its business strategy.

We contacted kulula to confirm exactly what they’ve done with their old planes but a spokesperson was unavailable to comment.

Planes on loan…

So it’s obvious that planes are expensive and in some instances airlines opt to lease them instead.

South African Airways (SAA) seems to be in a chicken and egg situation as it awaits approval for its new fuel efficient fleet arrivals, a key part of its Gaining Altitude strategy to stop hemorrhaging money - but the wait in turn contributes to its rather dire financial status.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali confirmed leased airplanes are simply returned to the lessor.

However, SAA owned aircraft such as its B747 classic aircraft, have had its high value components parted out with the fuselages being scrapped. The airline has also donated two of its aircraft to the museum society and these can be seen parked at Rand Airport.

Some of its older aircraft are also used for training purposes.

Another key player in the local market is British Airways. The airline has also been rolling out its shiny new Airbus A380s, the world's biggest commercial aircraft, as part of its $15-billion upgrade to boost its long-haul services.

Watch a British Airways A380 fly over Cape Town

British Airways also did not confirm what it does with its older aircraft but reports that the BA plane that hit a building at OR Tambo in December 2013 could be written off, really got us thinking about what happens to planes when they're unprofitable to run?

Yes, a plane hit a building at OR Tambo!? 

(Vincent Lessing)

In case you missed it – one fateful night during the festive season silliness a British Airways Boeing 747-400 en route to London, used the wrong runway and accidentally hit a building.

It definitely sounds absurd that something like this could occur in this day and age - but it’s no laughing matter since four people were hurt during the incident.

The Civil Aviation Authority has yet to conclude its investigation on the matter but preliminary findings indicate the aircraft was cleared for take-off on Runway 03L and air crew were given instructions to taxi using taxiway B. According to the CAA, the crew continued onto taxi way M which is narrower, resulting in the aircraft impacting on an office building behind the SAA Technical hangers.

We asked Vincent Lessing, accredited in Civil Aviation Management and Disaster Planning and Relief, what he thought the contributing factor could have been.

“Cockpit recordings made available to the SACAA by the Air Traffic Control should be able to reveal what happened. It’s clear that communication played a crucial role on that night.  New crew members, unfamiliar with the airport layout as well as the timing of the incident could have contributed.

“Looking at the pictures and extent of damage versus the time, I estimate that the crew only responded after impact.”

The images provided by Lessing illustrated where the incident occurred at OR Tambo

“Situational awareness and a complete understanding of the safety management systems which, include communication instructions and visual outline of airport layout are the crucial end factors in the unfortunate incident. “

This plane had a mishap history...

Lessing also noted that this particular plane, with the registration G-BNLL was also in a wing clip incident that took place in 2007 at London's Heathrow Airport.

According Lessing, writing this aircraft off would make perfect business sense.

“This is an old aircraft with a good number of flying hours behind it. It would not be worth the costs of getting the parts to South Africa from the manufacturer, paying a maintenance organization for the installment, along with the required test flights to secure airworthiness.”

So there we have it, not all airplanes end up in a fiery ball of disaster.

Sometimes they clip a building or simply slip down the aviation ladder of innovation to end up at an airplane graveyard - the  most notable of which is in the Arizona desert in the United States.Planes from all over the world are laid to rest here including the Netherlands, Australia, South Korea, Zimbabwe and Switzerland.

Locally there is a airplane funeral palour just outside Lanseria Airport.

(Mr Baggins, Flickr - see more amazing Lanseria images here)

What must surely be a poetically surreal experience, this aircraft graveyard is unfortunately not open to the public, with visits needing to be specially arranged.

(Mr Baggins, Flickr - see more amazing Lanseria images here)

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