Where Do Airplanes Go When They Die?
Martin Fraissignes who runs the Chateauroux airport in central France estimates that 8,000 aircrafts could be retired in the next decade. Add that to the thousands that have already been, um, taken for a walk behind the shed since the big boom in commercial air travel in the 1970s (most planes have a life of around 30 years), and it's starting to be a serious problem. Airplanes contain many toxic materials and they are not covered by the End of Life Vehicles Regulations that pass the cost of dismantling cars onto manufacturers. According to Bill Glover, Boeing's director of environmental performance for commercial aeroplanes, many planes are not handled safely after their retirement. He even talks about some of them being dumped inot waterways and the sea.
Concerned by this and aware that getting rid of aeroplanes was only going to become more of an issue, Boeing set up the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (Afra). It's a union of recycling companies with two airports - Chateauroux in central France and Evergreen Air Centre in Arizona.
Planes are dismantled. Parts that can still be used are sold and metals are separated for recycling.
But in years to come, plane recycling will become less of an exercise in processing scrap metal.
Increasingly, aircraft are being made of carbon fibre - the substance makes up 50% of Boeing's 787. And this, says the company's Bill Glover, presents a new recycling challenge.
Carbon fiber presents a special challenge, but it is also a great opportunity: At the Milled Carbon factory in West Bromwich, a 20 minute process is used to recycled carbon fiber into a product so good that Boeing says it can be used in airplanes again.
And there is more hope for the future: Both Boeing (with Afra -- Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association) and Airbus (with Pamela -- Process for Advanced Management of End of Life Aircraft) claim that they want to prempt government regulations and set up best practices for the safe disposal and recycling of aircrafts. To know how well that will turn out, we'll have to keep an eye on it in the coming years.