Recycling Old Aircraft: What Happens When an Airliner is Retired?

It doesn’t take a team of engineers and marketing specialists to figure out that consumers are more apt to buy into an idea if it’s easy to carry out.

Local governments and nonprofits have made it easy for consumers to recycle or dispose of household goods like cell phones, cardboard boxes, batteries and rubber tires, but these local recycling efforts are not scalable for big business. Imagine what airlines have to do when an airliner is retired.

Many cargo and passenger airlines face this problem when they modernize their fleet. Although storage is sometimes a solution, it can be pricey, too.

Recycle That Plane

Rather than incur ongoing expenses for storage, airlines are recycling their planes and selling the salvaged material. Though the worth of a scrapped plane is much less than a flying plane, storage expenses are eliminated and the metals, glass, o-rings, fabrics and alloys sold. This helps offset the original cost of the plane.
Though it’s not exactly modeled after the way that government and nonprofits have eased the way for consumer recycling, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA) has many accredited member organizations that airlines seek out for aircraft deconstruction and recycling.
But, airplanes weigh thousands of tons and the materials used in their construction range from plastic to aluminum; how is it possible to deconstruct a plane and sort through the remains? It’s much easier than it sounds. Companies that specialize in plane deconstruction can often do the job in hours, and leave no trace of the once-giant airplane. This video shows how it’s done.

Burgeoning Business?

AFRA estimates that about 12,000 airplanes face decommissioning over the next 20 years. Due to this decommissioning, the association believes there will be lucrative opportunities for businesses that scrap entire planes or strip planes of parts. Many times, freight companies will give a freight quote for moving sections of a plane once they are separated from the aircraft’s superstructure.

Old airplanes resurface in all kinds of consumer goods, such as cell phone and computers, and as recycled metals for use in new airplanes. But recycling aircraft takes other forms than just grinding them up or chopping them up for parts; some go to air and space museums or science museums have hang aircraft indoors for exhibits.

Interesting Uses

There are some highly imaginative ways creative people are reusing whole aircraft or aircraft parts. Here are a few, as reported by CNN:

  • A furniture designer uses various aircraft parts for designs in waiting room furniture, bedroom furniture and more. Moreover, the company has been doing this for more than a dozen years.
  • A Costa Rican luxury hotel converted the cabin of a Boeing 727 into a luxury suite that rents for $250-$500 per night, depending on the season.
  • Let us not forget the homeowner/architect in Malibu, California, who has converted a Boeing 747 into a luxurious mansion.

That the airline manufacturers and fleet operators have standards and best practices for companies that deconstruct and recycle entire airliners is refreshing and indicative of their concern for keeping our planet healthy.

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Written by greenlivingguy

The Green Living Guy, Seth Leitman is a green living expert, celebrity and Editor of the McGraw-Hill, TAB Green Guru Guides. Seth is also an Author, Radio Host, Reporter, Writer and a Environmental Consultant on green living. The Green Living Guy writes about green living, green lighting, the green guru guides and more. Seth's books range from: # Build Your Own Electric Vehicle by Bob Brant and Seth Leitman (2nd and 3rd editions) # Build Your Own Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle by Seth Leitman # Build Your Own Electric Motorcycle by Carl Vogel # Green Lighting by Seth Leitman, Brian Clark Howard and Bill Brinsky # Solar Power For Your Home by David Findley # Renewable Energies For Your Home by Russel Gehrke # Do-it-Yourself Home Energy Audits by David Findley # Build Your Own Small Wind Power System by Brian Clark Howard and Kevin Shea # and more green living books to follow.