News On 6 Crew Takes Part In Final Flight Of Plane Headed To 'Boneyard'

Wednesday, August 3rd 2016, 11:25 pm
By: Craig Day

American Airlines is adding 97 new planes to its fleet this year, on top of the 127 that joined last year.

To make room, more of the airline's old planes - including one that has had most of its maintenance work done in Tulsa - are going to a place in southeastern New Mexico called ‘The Boneyard.’

News On 6 went to Roswell with two Tulsa-based pilots on one plane's final journey.

After a 5 a.m. takeoff from Tulsa, we landed about an hour later in Dallas. Then, the really interesting part of the day began.

We were there for flight 97-89: Dallas to Roswell, on an American Airlines MD-80.

"Basically, it's last flight before it's retired," Pilot Gary Beam told us.

The plane's first flight was back in 1988.

The pilots inspected the exterior, then, we climb from the runway onto the plane. It was just us, an American Airlines representative, and two pilots.

After their last-minute checks, we were ready for takeoff for Roswell.

There's definitely one good thing about being on a plane's final journey, you're free to move about the cabin, meaning you can pretty much sit where you want - an aisle seat with plenty of legroom, a window seat with a great view, you pretty much get your pick, including first class.

Before long, we were at 34,000 feet and getting used to having the flight to ourselves.

We were the last of the 5.5 million passengers who've flown on the plane. It's now heading to The Boneyard.

Beam said, "They'll take any useable parts that they want off of the airplane - they'll pull the engines off, they'll pull the wings apart, take all these seats and all the carpet out and they'll turn it into aluminum cans."

At The Boneyard, hundreds of planes are scattered over 6,400 acres.

Every model, everywhere you look - even a plane once belonging to Elvis Presley. I'm told it has plush red carpeting throughout the entire interior.

Most of the planes were flown by American Airlines.

After 79,453 hours of service, or more than nine years actually airborne, our plane is being scrapped.

"To me, it's kind of like a cemetery and kind of draws the same reverence," Beam said.

It's a little sad for pilots, but Roswell's mayor, Dennis Kintigh, said more work at The Boneyard means economic opportunity at what once was Walker Air Force base, which closed in 1967.

"This chance to fully utilize this facility is important to us as a community, in the area of economic development," Kintigh said.

Southern New Mexico has the perfect climate, with low humidity.

There's a 13,000-foot runway to handle any plane, and there's plenty of room for parking planes.

Not all the planes that end up in Roswell are scrapped. In fact, some MD-80s, for example, are being refurbished for sale. Sometimes they're sold to third-world countries, or turned into cargo planes, but ours will be scrapped.

"It's kind of sad,” Beam said. “It's like the horse being put out to pasture."

The MD-80s have been a workhorse for American Airlines, but they're being phased out as the airline modernizes its fleet.

Pilot David Alaback said, "But it's time to move on. We've got a new generation of airplanes with better capability, and more fuel efficient, and all the new stuff."

American's goal is to have the youngest fleet of the four largest carriers by the end of 2017.