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.
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.
- The Balance Small Business. (2018). How Airplanes Are Recycled. [online] Available at: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/airplane-recycling-and-value-extraction-2877922 [Accessed 24 May 2018].
En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Aircraft recycling. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aircraft_recycling [Accessed 24 May 2018].
Nowadays, planes are designed keeping recycling in mind. Reusable parts are easy to remove in the recycling process.
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