It was a stunning winter’s morning as I meandered down the motorways towards the Cotswold’s in Gloucestershire. I was here to film a report on a large-scale green revolution that has been going for several years at the local airport.
I was always under the impression that planes that were past their sell-by-date were rotting away in some vast American desert in 100-degree heat. So I was quite surprised that these beasts of the skies are now-a-days nearly 100 per cent recycled.
I had arranged to meet Mark Gregory, who is the big cheese behind Air Salvage International. His business is thriving and the company is now the biggest in Europe processing over 50 planes a year through its Cotswold facility.
He was telling me that the economics of plane production have reduced the price of new jets to such a level that aircrafts are now retired much younger as the core value of spare parts can fetch more than the aircraft, as an airborne asset.
The programmed age for retirement was normally around 25 years but it is now common for perfectly good working jets to be retired at 15 years.
For new generation aircraft up to 95% can be recycled with the removal of 1000 – 2000 parts. To preserve the value of the parts, each item needs its documentation, to prove that it has been taken from the aircraft, a little like its own passport, without this provenance the part is worthless. Every part must be carefully dismantled and labelled, a skilled yet somewhat arduous task.
A 737 can take up to 6 weeks to dismantle. Whilst the engine is the most valuable asset, surprisingly it is the airframe itself that is least valuable, but even that is recycled as scrap metal often finding a new form such as a beer or coke can.