Airbus goes greener with airframe recycling project

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Manufacturer launches experiment for salvaging parts and safe disposal of waste

Airbus has started a 15-month experimental aircraft dismantling project, dubbed Pamela (Process for Advanced Management of End-of-Life of Aircraft), aimed at ageing aircraft that would otherwise be left corroding on the sides of runways.

On 24 February, its first aircraft, an ex-Fly Air A300, was flown to Tarbes airport, south-west France, which has been designated as a centre of reference for dismantling and recycling of any aircraft type.

The plant – scheduled to start industrial-scale operations in mid-2007, recycling 85-95% of up to 10 aircraft a year within three years – will be managed by the Tarmac consortium, made up of Airbus, waste management business Sita, EADS aviation support and maintenance division Sogerma Services and the Préfecture des Hautes-Pyrénées.

The €3.3 million ($4 million) project, which is almost half funded by the European Commission’s environmental Life scheme, will then be used as the basis for extending the existing regulatory framework to cover the storage of retired aircraft through to dismantling, recycling and disposal of dangerous materials.

“Raw materials are going to become more and more expensive and if we manage to extract them skilfully, it will be possible to get the full price for the titanium, some expensive steel types, as well as the aluminium,” says Airbus’s Jean-Luc Taupiac, who heads the new plant.

Electronic systems, tyres, batteries, chlorofluorocarbons and hydraulic fluids will all go through a controlled processing system, while recovered working spares will be tracked and put safely back into the parts system.

Airbus will then be able to prevent materials being sold on the black market, while increasing the control over the supply chain of aircraft from sale to destruction.

The European manufacturer hopes that, with the number of retired civil aircraft totalling an estimated 6,000 over the next 20 years, Tarbes will become the reference centre for the creation of a European network working on the best-practice principles it has developed.

AIMEE TURNER / LONDON