Tearing Down an Air France Boeing 777

Tearing Down an Air France Boeing 777

DALLAS — Aircraft teardowns are a valuable part of the overall airframe lifecycle. Decommissioning is carried out once an aircraft is taken out of service for good, followed by the removal of engines, disassembly, teardown, and recycling as much as possible of the valuable parts that could go onto another aircraft in service.

Touchdown Aviation (TDA) has been at this for decades, tearing down planes and getting the reusable parts to its partners. We look at a recent project of TDA, one that is rather special to them—the teardown of an Air France (AF) Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, special because it’s their first ever Boeing 777 teardown. 

The Chosen Aircraft

MSN29004 (LN-138), a Boeing 777-228ER joined the French flag carrier back in 1998 and wore registration F-GSPC. She logged over 100,000 hours of flight time, primarily connecting Paris to North America, Africa, and Asia. Her cabin featured a three-class configuration: 40 in Business Class, 24 in Premium Economy, and 216 in Economy. The aircraft’s total lifespan in figures includes the following:

  • Hours: 106600
  • Cycles: 13987
  • Avg. Flight Time: 7.62 h

The time was up for the special bird, and last spring, the jet was taken out of service and sent to Teruel (TEV), a storage facility in Spain, for breakdown.

In today’s post, I discuss with Michiel van Bavel and Ricardo de Vries the overview of TDA’s business in aircraft teardown and, more closely, the Air France project.

F-GSPC | Photo: Ricardo de Vries / TDA

How did TDA enter the airplane teardown business? Much of the tearing down in recent times has been of narrow bodies, correct?

We’ve been around for forty years, actually, and TDA has always been a supplier in the aftermarket in the MRO business. The teardown business started about ten years ago.

After 2015, it picked up at high speed. We’ve done a lot of Airbus A320 family and 737 NGs, as for wide bodies, we have torn down three A330s in the past two years, and this is our first 777 teardown.

Why did you pick this particular aircraft (Air France Boeing 777-200ER)?

For a lot of reasons, of course, but we are dealing with a lot of Airbus materials, and what we see from our customer base is that quite a lot of them who fly the A320 also fly the Boeing 777s, and we’re trying to target as many airlines as possible to keep the supply chain close to us.

The Boeing 777 has always been on our list of potential candidates, but it had to be the right one, of course. We’ve received many interested parties and this one came up on our path and worked out well with the previous owner, so TDA decided to go ahead.

This aircraft has been operated by Air France, of course, and AF is one of our main customers in Europe, so we collaborate with them on multiple fronts, and we’ve actually sold much of this very aircraft back to Air France itself and for their contracted customers. It’s a reciprocal partnership business with Air France. But we have many more.

F-GSPC Teardown in progress at Teruel Airport | Photo: Ricardo de Vries/TDA

Does TDA itself have a team in Teruel to break it down, or do you outsource it to another organization to do it? If yes, who are they, and how is your partnership with them?

Because we must always rely on third-party services, we do no physical maintenance on the airframe. So, there is a contract with a company, and we share a list of parts needed, and they remove those from the aircraft.

This is our first time with TARMAC, we usually have our aircraft in Castellón (CDT), Spain, or Marana Pinal Airpark (MZJ) in Arizona, US, and airfields like that.

TARMAC Aerosave is an EASA and FAA Part 145 MRO company, dedicated to the Storage, Maintenance, and Recycling of Aircraft and Engines (CFM56 & Leap).

As for the Air France 777, what do you plan to collect that remains valuable for TDA to re-use?

We would like to collect as much as possible that can be reused. So, components that can be reused in the active industry include flight deck hydraulic systems, landing gear components, items from the cabin and avionics, etc. The APU is usually handled by us but not the engines, we buy airframes without engines.

We also have customers who want to have a piece of the airframe, be it the door or window. If not, the seats, wiring, and everything else will be removed, and the bare metal will be scrapped.

Many items, I believe, would need to be recertified before TDA could sell them on the market. What is the re-certification process like?

The aircraft was fully airworthy, so everything is in serviceable condition. Still, it is an industry trend that needs to be recertified before reusing them. We send the components to repair shops, get them certified, wait for them to come back to us, and then we sell them.

On average, it takes 3–4 weeks to get the piece back from the repair shop post-recertification, but it’s a bit longer now due to supply chain issues.

F-GSPC Teardown in progress at Teruel Airport | Photo: Ricardo de Vries / TDA

Ricardo puts the entire process in a nutshell:

The usual process after the acquisition of the aircraft is a discussion with the teardown company (TARMAC in this case) about our demands, and they start working on the list we provide them.

Along the way, we’ll get notifications about the project, and at the very end when they feel the airframe is complete, we are then invited over to inspect and that’s when we go through the entire aircraft to make sure anything of value has been removed.

This goes by the name: Final walkthrough.

Featured Image: Ricardo de Vries/TDA

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