Recycling of Airplanes

//Recycling of Airplanes

Currently, around 400 to 450 airplanes are being recycled every year. Old and retired airplanes are scrapped or disassembled in the process of recycling them. Airplane recycling market has an annual volume of 2 billion dollars and it is growing bigger and bigger every year with more planes retiring. However, this number depends on certain factors. Non-profit organizations are usually involved in the recycling of airplanes to promote environmental best practices.

Why are airplanes recycled/scrapped?

The ideal lifespan for an airplane is 25-30 years. Various factors such as Metal fatigue, Corrosion and less availability of the compatible spare parts are some of the major problems leading to the retirement and then disassembly or scrapping of the airplanes. Newer machines also come with latest technology, better fuel-efficiency, better functionality and reduced maintenance cost.

What determines the lifespan of an airplane?

The lifespan of an aircraft is usually measured in pressurization cycles and not in years. The fuselage and wings of the airplane are stressed when it is pressurized during the flight. The fasteners and rivets used to keep the large parts of the plane together develop cracks over time due to metal fatigue. Fuselage is most likely to be affected by metal fatigue. Although wings and other parts are also susceptible to damage.

Aircrafts used for longer flights usually reach a longer lifespan because they go through the pressurization cycle less often than the airplanes used for short flights on daily basis. Certain parts of the airplane are inspected (during production and working) and replaced in the working age to ensure maximum performance and smooth flight experience for the passengers. Robotic systems are currently being used to inspect the commercial planes (wings and fuselages) before they fly. These systems involve non-destructive inspection techniques and usually cost millions of dollars. Work is being done to reduce the cost of this process.

An airplane flies more than 50,000,000 miles. Even after this, most of its components and parts are reused in other planes after some modifications.

The recycling process:

Tons of solid metal are produced with the parts of the recycled airplane. Jets contain thousands of valuable parts that are changed and recycled several times during their lifespan. The recycling of an whole airplane is a regulated process and involves various steps.

Car battery with green recycle sign.Taking the aircraft to an aircraft recycler: Usually aircraft recyclers are directly on airports and some military bases. Such a company typically has a runway and a storage place for the planes while they wait to be recycled. The retired planes are parked here until their owner decides their fate.
Car battery with green recycle sign.Removing hazardous materials: Present day modern planes contain various dangerous and radioactive materials in them. These materials are essential for the plane to function properly. But this material poses a danger to the workers of the recyclers. That is why these hazardous materials are removed carefully according to some strict regulations.
Car battery with green recycle sign.Removal of the aircraft engine: The engine, being the most valuable part of a plane, is usually removed and reserved for reuse or it is disassembled into various parts. It can then be sold (for millions of dollars) or it can be rented on monthly bases. After replacing some parts with the engines can be reused in other planes.
Car battery with green recycle sign.Removal of useful electronics: Every plane contains thousands of useful electronic parts. These parts include every component of a plane from flight control computers to black box and even the fuses used in the circuits.
Car battery with green recycle sign.The interior: The parts of the interior of a plane make about 30 percent of its weight. But most parts of the plane interior are no recyclable. If no other buyer can be found they end up in the landfills.
Car battery with green recycle sign.Stripping of metals: One disassembled plane can make over 100 tons of metals like aluminum and some other useful alloys. Recycled planes make thousands of tons of reusable material each year.
Car battery with green recycle sign.Reusing the landing gear: The landing gear of a plane is the second most important part after the engines. It is worth millions. In order to remove the landing gear, the plane is propped up on support and then the landing gear is removed. The landing gear can then be reused in other planes as a replacement or it might be disassembled. The wheels and shock absorbers of the disassembled landing gear are used in the production of new landing gears.
Car battery with green recycle sign.Shredding: Once all the valuable parts of a plane are removed and nothing valuable is left, the rest of the plane (usually only frame) is finally shredded. The materials such as aluminum, carbon fiber and plastic may then be recycled and used for other purposes.

Some planes are not shredded, but they are stored to be used in the shooting of movies.

Uses of aircraft parts:

  • Reusable parts and other materials of end-of-service planes are used to make circuit boards and computers.
  • Some parts of the plane can also be refurbished to be reused in any other plane. These parts include carts, trays, bins and some other parts. This enables the plane manufacturers to control and minimize the costs.
  • Nowadays, planes are designed keeping recycling in mind. Reusable parts are easy to remove in the recycling process.


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2018-08-31T08:13:28+00:00By |Categories: Recycling Process|0 Comments

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