MIAMI – Another Finnair (AY) Airbus A319 is about to be dismantled on home soil, becoming the first commercial airliner to be recycled in Finland.

The aircraft recycling process is part of the overall life-cycle management of any plane. In other words, in the aircraft design process, designers think about the potential of aircraft recycling. Recently, the aircraft recycling industry is increasing, and the process is accelerating as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are usually two paths in the aircraft recycling process. The first is to remove all aircraft components and, after proper inspection, re-insert them into the spare parts market. The other path is to have the components become part of creative memorabilia, or become something else altogether, as Etihad Airways (EY) did when it recycled obsolete parts of its fleet into art.

Finnair A330. | Photo: Kochan Kleps

Finnair’s Recycling Story

According to a news release on the airlines’ website, AY sent one of its Airbus A319-112, part of the A32S fleet, to the Cotswolds, England, in 2020, to be dismantled by a partner company. However, with the second A319 to be dismantled, this year is different.

“This will be the first commercial airliner to be recycled in Finland,” says Timo Rossi, Project Manager for Finnair Technical Operations. The dismantling process is also part of F9’s sustainability policy. Timo describes says that older aircraft that have completed years of service can be easily scrapped and their parts reused.

Finnair Airbus A320. | Photo: Francesco Cecchettii

How Do They Do It

This A319, which has flown 54,710 hours and 32,966 flight cycles over 21 years, will begin the dismantling process at Helsinki Airport (HEL). “It’s going to be done in three parts,” says Timo, explaining the process. “Finnair is going to remove bigger components such as the wings, engines, landing gears, auxiliary power unit (APU). Then technicians take apart a couple of hundred other parts for eventual use in our active flying fleet.”

Finnair is an approved Aircraft Maintenance Organization (AMO) and has EASA Part-145 for Aircraft Maintenance. As such, the work will be completed in line with the European Standard for Aircraft Maintenance Firms. After the F9 staff has stripped the aforementioned components at HEL, the carrier will send the remaining parts of the aircraft to an external partner for further dismantling.

“We’ve calculated the component removals will take roughly eight weeks,” says Timo. “At Helsinki Airport it will take around a day to cut off the wings and the tail to get the aircraft transported to the final recycling location. The current plan is to start in the middle of February, with the work of our partner finishing in late March or early April.”

Finnair recycled first A319 last year. | Photo: Alberto Cucini

Aiming at Sustainability

Once the aircraft has been fully dismantled, the leftover parts will form a “vital part of Finnair’s future,” says Timo. AY plans to reuse as many components as possible. Its collaborator is capable of recycling more than 90% of the remaining aircraft. However, the airline gets clear figures at the end of the process.

Finnair says components and parts from all over the aircraft have potential use, based on current needs. All pieces receive precise inspections and are restored if possible. Landing gears may be mounted on another plane, as they have recently been overhauled, for example.

In addition, the APU gets new life in another aircraft as well as several avionics parts. Timo says, “We are storing the parts in our stock, so that gives us more flexibility to support the rest of our fleet going forward.”

Finnair aims to recycle its aged fleet in Finland. | Photo: Brandon Farris

Finnair’s First in Finland

According to the press release, the decision to recycle the A319 in Finland has helped AY to draw on the experience of its maintenance workforce and to set down plans for the potential recycling of its fleet. “There have been a lot of bad effects from Covid, but the pandemic has allowed us to do this for the first time [in Finland],” says Timo.

Timo also stated that the initiative was a measure to see how the carrier could recycle an aircraft at home, rather than have to fly it to other countries to get the job done. When the testing is finished, he and his colleagues will have a better picture of the whole operation.

Timo asks, “We need to get through this, to put everything on paper and see what the numbers are. What is the benefit we are getting out of it? The sustainability and environmental point of view need to be thought through, too.”

Featured Photo: Alberto Cucini