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Desert conditions good for airplane storage

KINGMAN -- Forget everything the Internet says about the Kingman Airport being an airplane graveyard.

There's no such thing these days, not since the government accepted bids in 1946 to salvage 5,543 World War II aircraft stored at the former Kingman Army Air Field base that once housed a gunnery school. A total of 85 reconnaissance aircraft, 615 fighters, 54 light bombers, 226 medium bombers and 4,463 heavy bombers littered the field before they were cut up and sold for scrap.

So what about the colorful array of large airplanes lined up at the Kingman Airport? They are stored by Kingman Airline Services, an FAA approved Part 145 repair station and storage facility. The company stores commercial jet, turbo-prop and corporate aircraft, with the largest being a 747 weighing 399,000 pounds.

"Every airplane out there will leave again," said Kevin Dolan, president of Mercury Aviation Holdings Inc. in Los Alamitos, Calif., which owns Kingman Airline Services. "People ask us all the time about whether we're a graveyard for planes, and the difference between us and a graveyard is that we are an active storage facility. Everything here is expected to live."

The company, which opened in 1994, leases storage space for three types of customers, said Dolan. They are airlines such as United, American, Delta, Continental and Allegiant; leasing companies such as Bank of America, Embraer airplane manufacturer and charter companies; and private owners such as DHL.

Some want their airplanes ready to go quickly, said Dolan, while others want them stored for six months to a year. Each airplane is part of a program that provides regular maintenance by the company's certified airframe and power plant mechanics. Kingman Airline Services has about 40 employees and two large hangars at Kingman Industrial Park.

"The desert is a great place to store airplanes because of the large amount of space, the low humidity and the lack of rain," said Dolan, noting only about five companies in the West provide similar services. "But this is a difficult business to get into for similar reasons. You need a tremendous amount of space, the right climate and people who are able to make the company work."

Currently, Kingman Airline Services stores about 150 airplanes in the blazing sun, with Delta Airlines its largest customer. The airplanes are lined up, their engines, windows and tires covered for protection. Dolan said the company has clients in Turkey, Russia, Mexico, Canada and the U.S., and advertises in trade publications.

Dolan said he could store up to 200 more airplanes in the future, and expects the current amount to grow by 50 in the next six months.

"There is a real need to store aircraft and keep them in a condition where they are ready to go again," said Pat Connell, who has been director of maintenance for seven years. "There's a lot of self-satisfaction in taking care of an airplane while it's here and watching it finally take off for its new home."

The company also provides other services, including fleet management, engine removal and installation, records audits, airframe disassembly and dismantling, pre-buy inspections and consulting services. But its second biggest service besides airplane storage is aircraft repair and maintenance, said Dolan, noting storage is about 60 percent of the business while repair and maintenance constitute almost 40 percent.

The company repairs one or two planes a month, said Dolan, and is looking to increase that amount as much as possible. Dolan said two airplanes could fit in the large hangar used for working on aircraft. Recently, employees modified a charter aircraft needing a door that opened to the ground instead of the side so it could land at small airports and passengers could disembark without extra ladders.

Kingman Airline Services also dismantles airplanes for parts, redistributing up to 90 percent of the plane's weight. Currently, workers are taking apart an airplane so its viable parts can be shipped to a company in Russia. Dolan said the company dismantles about five airplanes a year and the leftover scrap is sold to a local recycling company for its aluminum and other metals.

"We provide service in every aspect of taking care of an airplane, from repair and maintenance to storage," said Dolan. "We deal with the entire life cycle of any commercial or corporate aircraft. It's a great business and there's definitely a growing need for what we do."

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