MIAMI – After decades of flying, an aircraft has to meet its demise. While some end up at the aircraft boneyard or grave, some are recycled. The latter is gaining relentless momentum.

The recycling process of an aircraft entails harvesting parts and materials from what is called end-of-life aircraft.

In general, the process begins with dismantling – removing seats, engines, and galley items, leaving only the fuselage broken down by an excavator. Upon collecting small metal scraps post breakdown, they are transported to a facility for recycling.

Once metals and plastics are separated, a powerful magnet is used to further separate iron and steel from aluminum eventually producing recycled metals that can be used for new manufacturing.

A section of the A310 at PAD | Image: Aerosky

Case Study: Aerosky Airbus A310

A project was taken up by Aerosky in 2018 at Paderborn-Lippstadt Airport (PAD) in Germany. The group bought a VIP configures Airbus A310 aircraft from a middle east airline and chose to dismantle it to maximize the return on investment instead of waiting a long while hoping for a customer to buy the aircraft as a whole.

The process to break the type down was initiated at the German Aircraft Maintainance hangar with the removal of 1,800 parts. The remaining amount of aluminum of the A310 is around 30 to 40 tons, valued at €2,000 per ton.

Operations manager Jörg Maron stated that the engines of the Airbus A310 had a resale price tag of approximately US$1.5m.

Regarding the recycled metal, Maron stated, “I assume that we will see the majority of them again in the form of Coke cans.”

Besides cola cans and other technological devices, some parts can be used to make new aircraft too. Aircraft recycling is a growing part of the industry which has a positive eco-friendly effect as more than 10,000 aircraft will be scrapped in the next two decades. One of the priority goals in today’s aircraft design and manufacturing is to build one that can be recycled to the maximum.

A310 ready to turn into recyclable metal | Image: Aerosky