The aviation sector is in crisis
As a result of the epidemic and the ensuing decline in air travel, over a quarter of all passenger planes in the world are currently sitting idle in airports and storage facilities, awaiting the decision of their owners.
It’s possible that some of those planes won’t fly again.
Owners don’t want to pay extra when it comes to parking and storage, says James Cobbold, director of Willis Lease, a global engine leasing company.
A parts-trader for disassembly would be the best option because they need them operational or off their books.”
There were 5,467 commercial passenger jets in storage in July, according to Rob Morris, worldwide head of consultancy at Ascend by Cirium, an aviation and data analytics business.
As of the end of February 2021, this stored ratio was down to 35% of the total world stockpile, representing a considerable drop from 64% in early April 2020, when the pandemic began.
Despite this, there are still many aeroplanes sitting in hangars and on airstrips around the world, wasting their potential fuel.
Depending on where you look, you’ll see everything from fully functional planes to those that have been entirely dismantled and their parts scattered across the runway.
Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire, near Cirencester, is one such facility. Here, a company called Air Salvage International specializes in aircraft disassembly.
According to Skyline Aero’s managing director Bradley Gregory, there are three basic scenarios in which an aeroplane is grounded and travels to their facilities as part of the Air Salvage International group of companies.
The best-case scenario is that it’s kept in good working order and merely needs pre-flight checks before it can fly again.
Alternatively, the plane could be placed in long-term storage with its engines deactivated and minimal maintenance performed.
In the end, the aircraft will be disassembled or “parted out,” with the engines and other parts being removed to be reused in other aircraft or recycled at a facility.
Approximately 75% to 80% of the planes that have arrived in the last 12 months have been destined for storage because the asset owner has no immediate purpose for them, according to Mr. Gregory.
With 29 planes now stored, 14 are ready for dismantling, and six are actively being disassembled for disposal.
Globally, Cirium estimates that just 449 planes will be sent for disassembly in 2020, compared to 508 in 2019.
This final part of a passenger jet’s life is getting more attention as the industry becomes more ecologically friendly and sustainable in light of growing concerns about global warming.
Some pieces, depending on the plane model and make, can be repurposed, according to Mr. Gregory.
Other models have as little as 200 components, while others have as many as 1,200 on later models, and some have even more.
Landing gear, brakes, cockpit instruments, and even wheels are helpful in addition to the aircraft’s engines.
A repair shop visit can put hundreds of aircraft parts through their paces. According to the expert, if they can be recertified and are not damaged beyond repair, they can be put back together again and flown on another aircraft.
An additional player in this is the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA). As part of its work, the association audits many businesses, including those implicated in this breakdown. Best management procedures are rigorously enforced to keep them in check.
It is possible to recycle or repurpose many aeroplane parts; however, this presents several obstacles.
Mr. Cobbold says the cabin inside, constructed of various plastics, is the only element that can’t be recycled right now.
According to him, if a fuselage or sections of it need to be discarded and the cabin inside is no longer needed, this is the only material that will end up in a landfill.
Another business working on end-of-life aircraft, eCube Solutions’ Mike Corne, says recycling jets will be more difficult since newer planes employ composite materials that are difficult to handle.
It’s costly to recycle carbon fibre right now, he says.
According to him, a lot of money is being put into researching ways to recycle these materials, and perhaps carbon fibre will be utilized in the future.
Commercial jet storage is expected to expand from 5,467 to 6,120 by the end of the year, according to Mr. Morris from Cerium.
Three aeroplanes have just been ordered to be dismantled by Mr. Gregory from Skyline Aero; this indicates a low level of demand for aircraft.
He says there’s a slight rise in demand, but it hasn’t taken off as quickly as many people expected.
The recycling business will be ready if more planes are slated for dismantling.
Cobbold estimates that we can recycle between 92 and 99 percent of an aeroplane using natural recycled technologies or the circular economy soon.
Outside of the aviation industry, “I don’t think people realize the extent to which the end-of-life sector is creative in the aircraft industry.”