Kemble-Cotswold Airport is not a location most people have heard of, but within the airline industry it's gained a reputation as Europe's number one choice for airliner withdrawals. For decades RAF Kemble was a busy maintenance base for both the Royal Air Force and US Air Force, and was also the home of the Red Arrows.
A Gnat preserved at Kemble in Red Arrows colors.
After the RAF moved out, it became something of a sleepy backwater kind of place, with nothing much happening. For the past 15 years or so, it has grown to become one of the foremost locations for aircraft storage, dismantling and recycling, thanks to the presence of Air Salvage International (ASI).
An Airbus A319 in front of ASI's hangars. Most useful parts have already been re-claimed.
ASI is a family-owned company offering a variety of maintenance, storage and disposal services. Since 2010, around 130 jet airliners have made the one-way trip to Kemble to end their working lives there. Owners, which are typically lessors, decide where to park and part out their assets, and in recent years, there have been many arrivals from the Far East and South America as well as from a number of British operators.
A Boeing 777-200, still with one Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engine on the wing.
ASI explained that it's the owners who choose where to park aircraft based on a number of economic factors, not least of which is where the re-usable parts are to be sold. Often, deals are in place before arrival for many of the valuable parts, and these are removed very quickly after landing. Typically the most valuable parts are the engines, which are often worth more than all of the rest of the aircraft put together.
A CFM56-3 engine once lived here but has been removed for onward sale.
Next up are the seats, which if they are in good repair and sellable, can also be worth more than the basic airframe. Other items re-claimed include avionics, rudders, winglets, doors, windows, undercarriage and wheels.
Landing gear from scrapped 747s, with a recently-arrived 747-400 behind.
Nosecones are also often removed as they are in demand.
This A319 has had its nosecone removed, along with many other parts of course.
An ATR42 also sits nose-less at Kemble.
Also located here are Skyline Aero, an affiliate of ASI. Whilst ASI primarily manage the storage and disposal of the aircraft, Skyline is a parts and consumables trader, so it's ideally placed to take advantage of the continuing supply of parts stock from the incoming airliners. Bradley Gregory, Skyline's Managing Director, explained how some fuselages can be worth far more than their residual scrap value if a customer has a particular need. For instance, many part-fuselages are sold to government agencies or airlines as training aids. Cockpit sections can be sold to be turned into simulators, saving large sums of money on buying a traditional simulator. Sometimes collectors take part-fuselages or cockpits away for their own premises, whether it's for a business or residential location.
A Beech 200 KingAir awaits collection by a private buyer- this one has escaped the axe !
Also affiliated to ASI are GCAM Maintenance, who provide storage solutions as well as maintenance services. As EASA 145 approved MRO, they are currently working on two stored Embraer 145s at Kemble.
One of the Emb145s being managed by GCAM, soon to be returned to service.
On the face of it, the airfield at Kemble appears to be a very quiet place, but that's because it's not a regular commercial airport. "Under the hood" so to speak, it's home to a number of thriving aerospace businesses, offering a variety of services.
An aerial shot of Kemble-Cotswold Airport. Credit Ian Haskell/ASI/Twitter.
Whilst not on the scale of the vast storage airfields in the US deserts, its business is only likely to grow, as there are thousands of airliners due for retirement over the next few years. Aviation Week's Commercial Fleet & MRO Forecast is predicting over 8000 Western jet airliners to retire in the 2017-2026 timeframe. Last year alone, over 500 Western jet airliners were withdrawn according to Aviation Week's Fleet Discovery database, a number of which had Kemble as their final resting place.
My thanks to Bradley Gregory, Skyline-Aero and ASI for their help with this article.
All photos by Nigel Howarth except where indicated.