From jetliners to handbags: Airbus leads new studies in recycling retired jetliners

Europe’s PAMELA programme for the environmentally-friendly disposal of retired aircraft is entering its second phase, with the focus now turning to newer-generation jetliners and advanced materials such as composites.

17 July 2008

PAMELA is an Airbus-led project to evaluate methods for responsible dismantling of thousands of jetliners that will reach the end of their useful operational lifetimes in the coming decades. Instead of parking these aircraft in “bone yards” or grossly breaking up their airframes for scrap, PAMELA is defining ways to take apart them to maximise their recyclability and reduce the environmental impact. 

Experience from the PAMELA A300’s disassembly has demonstrated that 85 per cent of this aircraft’s weight can be recovered for reuse. The eco-efficient approach used in this programme has raised the amount of material capable for direct reuse in aerospace applications to the very high level of 70 per cent. 

No opportunity is being overlooked for the recycling opportunities. This includes the possible reprocessing of seatbelt buckles for such things as handbags, luggage and even fashion accessories. 

The expertise gained in dismantling the PAMELA A300 is now being applied to the disassembly of a ground-based A380 test airframe, which will help prepare for eventual disposal of such next-generation aircraft – which contain significantly more composites and other new materials. 

This A380 airframe previously was used by Airbus for static testing, and has now “come under the knife” at Toulouse, France to provide an initial evaluation of responsible disposal techniques for the 21st century flagship. 

The new PAMELA process has demonstrated that composite components from the A380 could be recycled. While the recovered material’s carbon fibres probably are too short in length for aerospace applications, potential reuses could include the automobile industry. 

Taking a step beyond the water-jet technology employed to cut up the PAMELA A300 airframe, a new cable saw concept was applied in double-deck A380’s dismantling. The cable saw – which had diamond chips as its cutting surface – was wrapped around the airframe portion to be segmented, requiring less energy than for the water-jet, and also eliminating the need to treat run-off water from the process. Additional details on PAMELA programme recycling is being provided on Airbus’ exhibit stand at the Farnborough Airshow.

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