Plane old recycling

BBC News: Where old aeroplanes go to die.

It was 38 years ago this weekend that the 747, the "jumbo jet", first rolled out of a factory in Everett, Washington State. It was famous for one thing – being big – and phrases like "the size of a jumbo" soon became commonplace. And it was big for a reason: Boeing, like everyone else, foresaw a surge in air travel in the 70s, and to meet a huge demand it helps to have a huge plane. For many people, the jumbo ruled the skies, but time is now up for the early 747s. The life span of most commercial aeroplanes is said to be around 30 years; and so, just as there was a 1970s explosion in aircraft production, now there’s a big jump in the number of planes beyond use.

What’s to be done with them? Aircraft contain toxic materials, so dumping them at a far-off airfield or throwing them in the sea is clearly unacceptable. But that’s just what has been happening, according to Bill Glover, Boeing’s director of environmental performance for commercial aeroplanes. "There were some specific instances – I won’t say they were widespread by any means – of bits of planes found in waterways. That obviously raised a flag for everyone concerned." 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.

How long does it take to recycle a whole plane? Some of the carbon fibre can be reused in new planes, other parts are sold or scrapped. I’d like to see Apple, Dell, Sony, and the like setting up something similar to recycle old PCs, their lifecycle is a mere two or three years and computers are full of stuff you wouldn’t want in your water supply.