Dismantling company finds innovative ways of reusing scrapped aircraft materials

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UK based P3 Aviation, which started life in 2004 primarily as a rotable components supplier, is also aiming to capitalise on the growing market for dismantling and recycling airliners. "We very quickly realised that one of the best ways to obtain components was to dismantle aircraft, so we started dismantling 18 months in," says Phil Donohoe, P3 Aviation's director of sales and business development.

"At the time, we were purely buying older aircraft, such as the jurassic [Boeing] 737-200s, and reaping what we could that had interchangeability on the new 737s. But with the downturn in the market in 2008, we have seen the business change an awful lot. Airlines are looking for more value from components and this has caused the 737-200 market for components to drop. The market value for the aircraft as a whole has dropped even more."

To address the fact that the book value of an aircraft is much greater to its owner than its market value, P3 Aviation has devised a programme that enables airlines and lessors to consign unwanted aircraft for dismantling over a 12- to 24-month period. The idea is that they get to keep the aircraft on their books as a single asset during this period before raking back a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of individual components.

Donohoe explains: "We manage the removal from service of the aircraft, then we deregister, dismantle and sell the parts for their maximum value and, hopefully, over a 12- to 24-month period, we can generate a higher rate. Airlines and lessors have responded well to this. A 737 can become 900 assets, but they get to keep it on their books as a single asset."

P3 has managed to turn aircraft scrap into cash in some unusual ways, including material from the cabin, he adds. "We will try to recycle as much as we can, but unfortunately some things do go to landfill - mostly interiors, although we have had some success at selling interiors. We just completed a 737-400 teardown. The interior and seat cushions would normally have gone to landfill, but we were able to sell it to an airline that wanted a whole interior."

The company has also sold various aircraft parts for use as office furniture. One customer bought broken-down pieces of fuselage to use as desk partitions so employees could look at their colleagues through aircraft windows. "Flaps and stabilisers have become boardroom tables and engine inlet cowls can be used as reception desks," says Donohoe.

P3 Aviation, a member of the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association, dismantled seven aircraft in 2010. Six of these were consigned. The company aims to increase this to 10 aircraft in 2011, but plans to remain "deliberately small" for now.

"A 737 takes three to four weeks to dismantle properly," says Donohoe. "Using one facility, we can do a maximum of 12 in a year, but we don't want to overextend ourselves at the moment."

He says the company "will grow with demand".