The aviation industry uses precious metals in the manufacture of aircraft engines. Gold and silver, as well as palladium and platinum, are used in the manufacture of different types of aircraft engines, such as CF6 and the JT3D, according to the Aviation Suppliers Association. JT8D, JT9D, and RB211 aircraft engines also contain these metals.
Each year, 400 to 450 aircraft are scrapped and disassembled globally, for a $2 billion market for aircraft parts, and 12,500 aircraft will reach their end-of-life in the 20 years after 2009. Of those, around one third are parted out and disassembled by members of the AFRA. The AFRA is an international non-profit association aiming to promote environmental best practices, regulatory excellence and sustainable developments in the fields of aircraft disassembly, as well as the salvaging and recycling aircraft parts and materialsThe value of a decommissioned aircraft varies enormously. Engines and avionics in good working order are obviously worth something. But if an aircraft can’t fly, an airline may well end up spending money as there are no companies offering mobile recycling facilities.
n a routine recycling scenario, the airplane’s owner will send it to a dismantling yard, where its components will be stripped off and recycled. Between 40% and 50% of the weight of most dismantled aircraft finds its way back to the parts distribution pipeline.
Once at the yard, a full aircraft maintenance test takes place, to check all its systems.
This is followed by the aircraft drain, or the “depollution process”, where toxic and radioactive materials and fluids are safely stripped off and discarded of in line with strict environmental permits and regulations.
A qualified engineer will then identify and remove salvageable and useful parts for reuse, in accordance with the Aircraft Maintenance Manual. The most valuable parts are the engine and landing gear.
Once these interior components are removed, the aircraft’s fuselage and wings are torn down by heavy machines and loaded into bulk tippers that take them to a metal processing site.
Typically, an aircraft will be made out of a mix of aluminium, stainless steel, titanium, glass or reinforced polymer composites, magnesium alloys and several tons of copper and aluminium wiring. AFRA members reportedly produce some 30,000 tons of aluminium, 1,800 tons of special alloys, and 600 tons of parts every year.