Where do aircraft go when they die? The global aviation sector is expanding at a rapid pace and by 2050; the industry could be handling some 16 billion travellers and 400 million tons of cargo annually. At some stage, maintenance, repair and upgrading become uneconomic and at this point the owner will consider taking the aircraft out of service. It is estimated that over 9,700 aircraft are to be permanently retired or withdrawn from service over the next 20 years. In many cases the retired airframe will contain valuable components and parts that can be returned to
OEMs like Boeing (with AFRA -- Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association) and Airbus (with PAMELA -- Process for Advanced Management of End of Life Aircraft) have set up projects where aircraft are decommissioned, dismantled and recycled in safe and environmentally responsible conditions. These initiatives are aimed to identify a generic methodology for handling all end-of-life aircraft, along with a set of best practices. The experience in dismantling and disposal is fed back to engineers working at the start of the aircraft lifecycle, helping them to improve the design of both existing and future aircraft programmes.
To maximize the value of decommissioned jetliners, parts that can still be used are recovered and sold and metals are separated for recycling. The main steps in aircraft recycling are
- FAR Part 145 Controlled Parts Removal
- FAR Part 145 Recording and Tagging
- Parts Inspection
- Parts Repair and Overhaul
- Parts Certification
- Packing, Crating and Shipping
- Hazmat Disposal
- Hull Disposal
Using these methodologies, up to 85 per cent of the aircraft weight can be recycled, and more than 70 per cent of components and materials can be reused or recovered through regulated recovery channels. On a purely environmental standpoint, it translates into reduction of land-filled waste from 45 per cent to 15 per cent.
Increasingly, aircraft are being made of carbon fibre - the substance makes up 50% of Boeing's 787. Recycling Carbon fibre presents a special challenge, but it is also a great opportunity: At the Milled Carbon factory in West Bromwich, a 20 minute process is used to recycle carbon fibre into a product so good that Boeing says it can be used in airplanes again.
The aviation industry, lack established rules today regarding an airliner’s end of service life, and the recycling of its parts. Hopefully initiatives by Boeing and Airbus would pre-empt government regulations and set up best practices for the safe disposal and recycling of aircrafts.