Facing the prospect that about one-quarter of the 6,000 airliners destined for the scrapheap over the next 20 years will be Airbuses, the European airframer has begun talks to pull together a network of authorised aircraft recycling centres across the world.
The effort comes after Airbus completed the first stage of an initiative - dubbed Pamela (Process for Advanced Management of End of Life Aircaft) - to formulate best practice for the "smart dismantling" of airliner hulks as part of its "product life-cycle management" effort. The dismantling demonstration is part of the European Union's LIFE initiative.
"We have identified that, in the coming years, the need for 'end-of-life' centres will become critical," says Olivier Malavallon, Pamela project manager in Airbus's environmental affairs department. "Until now, this was not a core business of Airbus."
The first peak in Airbus retirements will be around 2016 and the second around 2025. "We want to be ready for this," says Malavallon, adding that by 2030, about half the annual airliner retirements are likely to be Airbuses.
The Pamela team also comprised two EADS divisions (CCR and Sogerma Services) as well as Paris-based waste-management company Suez-Sita and Prefecture Hautes Pyrenees - a local government administration that has ensured Pamela is fully compliant with all regulations.
The team spent a year taking apart a 24-year-old ex-Fly Air A300B4 (MSN194) at Tarbes airport in western France to investigate current practices for aircraft scrapping and to examine ways of improving the process to increase the amount and quality of materials recovered. "We delivered the final Pamela report to the European Commission in January, and we are now working on the industrial solution," adds Mallavalon.
The dismantling process of an airliner (after decommissioning and disassembling) now takes "two to five days", says Mallavalon. "We estimate that smart dismantling will take one to one and a half months."
The benefit of the more thorough process is that up to 70-80% of the scrap by weight is recovered for reuse, compared with about 60% today. And scrap metal recovered is of a higher grade - for example, the recovered aluminium can be reused in aerospace, says Malavallon.
Airbus is now "moving to implement an industrial solution" for the end-of-life dismantling which is expected to be completed by October, says Malavallon. "We want to develop a 'labelised' worldwide network of end-of-life centres, like we have for MRO, so we can offer a service and solution to the customer. These could be MRO companies or new organisations with access to storage locations and the capability to dismantle the aircraft in the proper manner.
The responsibility for creating the list of requirements and developing the network lies with Airbus's customer services division, which "is beginning talks with potential contractors worldwide", he adds.