WASHINGTON – Aviation photographer Ryan Patterson says many of the photos he took in the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic are still too painful to look at – and hopes he never takes another image like them again.
But he knows he captured the story.
The 22-year-old George Washington University student built a side business traveling the world taking aerial photos of airplanes and sell prints.
But in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began and the global lockdown brought many airliners to a standstill, it became his personal mission to document what hopefully would be a once-in-a-lifetime sight.
Keeping his home port in Washington, DC, Patterson traveled to various airports across the country to take photos of many planes, parked and in storage. His photographs show dozens of unused planes nestled in aircraft cemeteries, sites typically reserved for retired airliners. It has also captured numerous vacant tarmacs at terminals coast to coast, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, Miami and Kansas City.
Planes parked at Roswell International Air Center in September 2020 (Credit: Ryan Patterson)
“I started taking pictures when people started having trouble seeing COVID,” he told FOX TV stations. “COVID is obviously something you can’t see and I felt like in aviation you could see COVID. “
“I just wanted to highlight what was going on,” he continued.
But he said the most difficult shoot was in Roswell, New Mexico, where he saw dozens of parked planes. This was around the same time that airline workers were put on leave due to the global lockdown.
“I was one of the only people who went there and saw the real devastation, seeing the planes on the ground,” he said.
Kansas City International Airport, May 2020 (Ryan Patterson)
“It was difficult to watch, for sure,” he added.
But as air travel rebounded, Patterson came up with the idea to go back to some of those same airports and compare air travel in 2020 and air travel in 2021 side-by-side.
For example, he took an aerial photo of the United Terminal at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, DC. A generally busy terminal appeared largely deserted in December 2020. He returned and took another aerial photo of the same terminal showing more normal activity in September 2021.
“Taken in the same hour, 10 months apart,” he posted on Instagram. “It feels like we’re finally starting to see the light of day at the end of the very long tunnel.”
“It was a bit of a loop moment,” he said. “I guess that kind of marked the end, for me, of the hard part.”
American and United Airlines have stored hundreds of planes in Roswell, New Mexico during the September 2020 pandemic (Credit: Ryan Patterson)
Airline experts may agree with Patterson after seeing a recent rebound in air travel, filling flights near pre-pandemic levels.
Flight bookings have increased for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, exceeding pre-pandemic 2019 bookings by 3.2%, according to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index. Yet the resumption of travel faces a renewed threat as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise. The seven-day moving average of new infections in the United States is around 80,000 per day, up 26% from three weeks ago.
The United States fully reopened to many international travelers vaccinated earlier this month, bringing families and friends together for the first time since the coronavirus emerged and providing a boost to the travel industry decimated by the pandemic. The restrictions closed the United States to millions of people for 20 months.
Delta Air Lines said it saw a 450% increase in bookings at international outlets compared to six weeks before the announcement of the welcome of foreigners vaccinated by the United States.
“This is the start of a new era for travel and for many people around the world who have not been able to see their loved ones for almost two years,” said Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta.
Planes parked at Southern California Logistics Airport in July 2020 (Credit: Ryan Patterson)
Airlines officials say they haven’t seen bookings suffer because of the delta variant, although some have said it could delay the return of business travel, which airlines were hoping to speed up. this autumn.
Meanwhile, Patterson said there has been some corporate interest in releasing his “Stored Airplanes Project” collection, but he wants to be sensitive to airline workers affected by the pandemic and the 2020 lockdown. .
“I was aware of not posting planes lined up and stored when people were struggling when people were on leave,” he said. “Just a hard-to-digest picture. I didn’t want it to cause pain.”
“In a few years, these photos will have a little different take on them,” he said.
FOX Business and Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.