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A Guide to Sustainable Aircraft Decommissioning

As an aerospace organisation, you need to know the steps involved in aircraft decommissioning. In this article, we explore what aircraft decommissioning is and how it can be done in a sustainable way.

Table of Contents

aircraft decommissioning storage

What is Aircraft Decommissioning?

Aircraft decommissioning is the process of disassembling, dismantling, reusing and recycling the components of an aircraft at the end of its operational life.

Whether you are an aerospace equipment manufacturer, aircraft maintenance organisation, airline, or aircraft dismantling and recycling business, aircraft decommissioning is a process you need to be aware of. Up to 700 aircraft are decommissioned every year, with approximately 90% of parts of each aircraft being reused as spare parts for other aircraft or recycled. This is a growing trend, with nearly 15,000 aircraft scheduled to be decommissioned in the next 20 years.

Due to the sheer scale and volume of this operation, aerospace organisations and stakeholders are encouraged to learn to optimise their decommissioning processes. This is to ensure environmental and safety risks are minimised while the recycling and repurposing of parts are maximised.

Parts from decommissioned aircraft can be upcycled in newer aircraft, sold to independent brokers, or sold to airlines. The parts recycled can range from engines, landing gear, seating, electronics and even toilet bowls!

decommissioned aircraft

The 5 Phases of Aircraft Decommissioning

Generally, aircraft stay operational for 30 years before decommissioning. This average lifespan can be optimised by using high-quality adhesives and sealants designed for aircraft maintenance. The decommissioning process itself can be split into 5 main phases, which are described here.

The Decision to Decommission an Aircraft

The first step in the decommissioning process is deciding whether an aircraft needs to be decommissioned or not. The owner of the aircraft has to make this decision based on the technical and economical life of the aircraft.

The technical life of the aircraft is determined through analysing the:

  • Performance of the aircraft in fatigue tests
  • Flight hours/cycles achieved by the aircraft
  • Limitations surpassed in the aircraft’s Type Certificate

The economical life of the aircraft does not depend on any safety or performance-based metrics, but instead on how profitable and practical it is for the aircraft owner to keep it in operation. As a result, many aircraft are retired based on their economical life, despite their technical life not being yet reached.

Selection of Facilities

Once the decision to decommission has been finalised, the owners are to select a suitable facility to carry out the disassembly and dismantling process. The facility should be selected based on:

  • Location – this can affect climate and relevant jurisdiction.
  • Capabilities of the facility – dismantling equipment, storage facilities, accreditations and certifications.
  • Marketability – are the components being dismantled marketable in the jurisdiction where the facility is located?
  • Environmental aspects – certifications, presence of treatment facilities, sustainable practices.
  • Financial aspects – local operational costs, taxation.
  • Legal aspects – desirable terms of agreement regarding the ownership of the dismantled components.

Disassembly Process

The disassembly process applies to all aviation components within the aircraft that can be re-used and therefore must be carried out by an organisation that is certified for aircraft maintenance – otherwise, the disassembled parts may lose value. Owners should ensure that within the disassembly process:

  • High-value components are listed and handled with care.
  • All parts are disassembled safely, preventing the release of any hazardous substances where necessary.
  • All disassembled parts are registered and tagged.
  • All disassembled parts are tested, and their airworthiness is maintained.

Dismantling Process

The dismantling process removes all other components of the aircraft for non-aviation and recycling purposes after the aircraft has been disassembled. Owners should ensure that within the dismantling process:

  • Properly deregisters the aircraft for dismantling.
  • Protects all components leaving the facility to avoid foreign object damage (FOD) to other aircraft.
  • Entirely decontaminates the aircraft to avoid the release of any hazardous materials.
  • Safely disposes of the non-recyclable materials within aircraft to avoid soil and water contamination.

Parts Distribution & Recertification

Healthy components disassembled from the aircraft can be re-used in other aircraft. This process should ensure:

  • High-value components are identified, determining the revenue of the decommissioning project.
  • Maintenance of the airworthiness of all parts, in accordance with the requirements of the new aircraft.
  • A thorough inspection of all parts, ensuring no counterfeits/unapproved parts.
  • Re-certification of all re-usable parts.
  • Agreements between all organisations involved ensuring the most efficient and sustainable practices.

Adhesives, Sealants & Lubricants for Recertification

When it comes to parts recertification, owners may sell parts as they are, due to the condition being ready for use; or they may choose to carry out maintenance or update parts before sale, to allow for greater profit margins and more parts to be used.

In this case, there are various aerospace bonding and lubrication technologies that will provide new life and reliability to certain aircraft components.

Aerospace Adhesives

Huntsman’s high-performance Araldite and Epibond adhesives provide durable joining and bonding solutions for plastics, metals, composites and other substrates. Manufacturers can select aerospace adhesives that are resistant to fatigue, chemicals and temperatures, with mechanical properties that vary from rigid to flexible and offer long-term durability.

Huntsman products are specified in numerous applications ranging from interior parts such as:

  • Seats
  • Lavatories
  • Overhead bins
  • Galleys monuments

To exterior parts such as:

  • Nacelles
  • Landing gear doors
  • Control surfaces

Aerospace Lubricants

Along with adhesives for aerospace applications, there are also high-performance aerospace lubricants that allow owners to maintain and bring an extra lease of life to aircraft components.

Krytox™ high-performance lubricants were developed in the early 1960s to take on the demanding lubrication needs of the aerospace industry. Now, Krytox™ offer many new grades and tailored formulations of oils and greases that offer particular performance characteristics that are focused on certifications for aerospace applications. These oils and greases offer lifetime lubrication for critical components. They not only operate effectively in high vacuum and extreme temperatures but are also able to endure exposure to fuels, oxidizers, and radiation.

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If you have any questions or want to find out more about the possibilities for your industrial application, please complete the contact form and one of our experts will be in touch.

If you have a problem with industrial adhesives, sealants, or electronic protection products and require advice, you can contact our technical support service. Our team can help you to optimize your processes and applications.

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