What do they do with unwanted aircraft?

This Boeing 737 will eventually be recycled (photo by eisenbahner CC-BY)

This Boeing 737 will eventually be recycled (photo by eisenbahner CC-BY)

In this time of financial constraints, the aviation industry is finding things rather tough. However, one part of the industry is flourishing, and that is aircraft recycling.

Airlines are disposing of aircraft which are old, or aircraft which for financial reasons cannot be maintained within their fleet and kept flying. Or where the airline has already gone into liquidation, the owners or banks are requesting disposal of the aircraft.

These aircraft are passed onto aircraft recycling companies who specialise in stripping down the aircraft completely, returning the parts as spares back to the client, or selling onto other airlines; recycling the metal, and even selling parts of the aircraft to universities and colleges, or to film companies.

Boeing anticipates that in the next 20 years, 6,000 aircraft will require disposal. At the moment 40% of a Boeing aircraft can be recycled. With the help of new technology such as carbon composite materials used in the building of aircraft, the industry aim is to recycle 95% of an aircraft by 2016.

The location of one such operation is at Cotswold Airfield, in the UK. It is now known as the Jet Cemetery, and is reported to be the busiest aviation scrap-yard in the world.

First every part of the aircraft is tested to see if it is operational. Then the most valuable parts are removed: the engines, computers and other aviation electronics. Then other resalable parts are removed, from the hydraulics to the seats. All parts are removed by fully qualified and FAA approved engineers who thoroughly inspect the parts and catalogue information such as flying hours already completed. The parts can then be sold on with the relevant safety certificates.

From the airframe they recover wiring and various metals. In 2008 the industry succeeded in recycling 200,000 tons of airplane aluminium and 4,000 tons of specialty alloys.

The cabins and other seating can also be sold on as aircraft mock-ups for aviation training in universities, colleges, and in the aviation industry’s training facilities, and even on film sets where an on-board plane scene is required.

More information can be found on the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association website.

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