Airplane Dismantling – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

With technology constantly being upgraded, and environmental issues taking center stage, aircraft are becoming ever more sophisticated…

With technology constantly being upgraded, and environmental issues taking center stage, aircraft are becoming ever more sophisticated. Have you ever wondered where old and outdated airplanes go when they’re retired from service? In 2010 Google Earth pictures revealed a 2600-acre patch of desert in Tucson, Arizona, reportedly referred to as “The Boneyard”, which is home to an estimated US$35 billion worth of outdated planes. Some of these come in handy when spare parts are required for in-service planes at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and others may be dismantled with parts being recycled and sold off. Entire planes are sold, reportedly sometimes to the military of foreign countries. With its rust-free climate, the Boneyard has been a military storage facility for 60 years and has featured in some Hollywood blockbusters, including the Transformers.

While dismantling and reusing parts of airplanes is being done in various locations and to varying degrees, with the growth and technological advances in the aviation industry, Airbus has revealed that around 9,000 of their airplanes will be withdrawn from service over the next twenty years – and that is just one manufacturer. French company Tarmac Aerosave, based in an area known as “Aerospace Valley” near the town of Tarbes in France, has been dismantling aircraft since 2009. With its primary business being aircraft storage, the aerospace company has branched out into aircraft dismantling, and so far has completely stripped twelve planes. Parts salvaged during the dismantling of planes are tested and repackaged for sale. Old cockpits have been turned into flight simulators, and whatever can’t be sold as reusable parts is sold as recyclable scrap.

In addition to salvaging parts that can be sold, rather than lying unused in storage, the dismantling of airplanes allows engineers to inspect parts for wear and tear, using the information to design and produce more efficient parts for future aircraft. In anticipation of the influx of retired airplanes, a subsidiary of Tarmac Aerosave in Spain is preparing a new site which will have the capacity to store 200 planes, with up to forty models being stripped every year. Project director of business development and change at Airbus notes that there will be no more “from cradle to grave” for aircraft, but they will rather go “from cradle to cradle” as they are stripped and repurposed. This is in keeping with the worldwide push to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.