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 materials.
Retirements peaked at more than 700 in 2013 and declined to about 500 in 2016 while strong demand and relatively low fuel prices keep older airliners flying, the in-service aircraft older than 15 years grew by more than 1,600 between 2013 and 2017. As part prices were high in early 2018, some young, 15–20 years old A319 and A320s are being parted out. Decommissions should rise to 750 annually, 3,900 from 2018 through 2022, while manufacturers plan to ramp up deliveries to 2,200 aircraft in 2020.
In 2018, airliner retirement slowed to 1.75% of the fleet in 2018, down from 2.5% in 2017 and a 3.5% peak in 2013 according to Morgan Stanley in February 2019. At the time, Jefferies forecast a 2.3% average retirement over the next five years and reported 505 retirements in 2018. At the end of January 2019, there were 1,186 parked aircraft, 5.5% of the fleet down from 6.7% a year before and well below the past 20 years average. Aircraft lessors own 16% of the parked fleet, up from 9% a decade before. Most of the parked fleet is unlikely to fly again.
The parked fleet is 31% widebody (8% of the active fleet) and 69% narrowbody (5%), a lower availability due to the ramp of the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo. The parked aircraft include 250 Boeing 737 Classics, 158 McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, 64 Boeing 757s and 66 Airbus A340s; while 501 are in-production models with 166 widebodies including 67 Boeing 777s, mostly 777-200s. UBS notes the above-average air transport growth favour slower retirements, which could increase new deliveries deferrals, compensated for the manufacturers with a larger aftermarket parts revenue as they want a larger share of the $120 billion-a-year aftermarket, growing at over 4% per year.
Lessor Avolon count 2,100 aircraft are in storage in 2017 with 1,000 which shouldn't fly again: half are parked for more than three years and the other half is older than 25 years. A parked airplane may return to service if it's younger than 15 and aircraft parked over three years have a 50% chance of flying again, dropping to 20% for aircraft stored over five years. With owners accepting their assets value, this 2,100 should remain constant as the global jet transport fleet doubles to 51,800 over the next 20 years with 43,000 new deliveries and 16,000 retirements projected through 2037.
Airliners are typically operated for 20 to 30 years. Corrosion, metal fatigue, and low availability of new spare parts are problems encountered in greater frequency the older a machine becomes. Eventually, these factors, alongside improvements in fuel-efficiency and reduction in maintenance cost of newer machines, reduce the economic viability of the operation of older airliners. Consequently, they may be stored, or scrapped and recycled.
Vast expanses of arid desert are ideal for storage because hangars are not needed to maintain the aircraft at low humidity. Upon arrival, aircraft are washed to remove corroding salt, drained of fuel and lubricated with a light viscous oil. Explosive devices from the evacuation slides are removed, air ducts sealed, and an easily removable protective coat of paint may be applied. Some airliners are kept in working order as reserves, and a few are involved in fire-fighting and aerospace training schemes or in safety tests.
Most are used as a source of spare parts and scrapped. The scrapping process takes six weeks and begins with the removal of the explosive escape equipment and toxic de-icing fluid. Some components are unbolted and salvaged, including the engines and instruments, while the fuel is drained away.
The seats are worth from $450 to $5,000 and the landing gear can be sold for millions of dollars, although all parts need a Certificate of Airworthiness to be reused. Cables, batteries and other electronic waste are fed into the conventional recycling chains. Other parts, including the fuselage skin, cowlings, wings, propellers and windows, are saved from becoming scrap by companies such as MotoArt upcycling them into furnishings and art.  The remaining shell is cut into pieces and broken down by an industrial shredder so that the aluminium can be melted down.
The scrap metal is ground up, mechanically sorted by density and magnetism, then sold to the trade. A future challenge for disposal is the construction of aircraft which use composite materials, such as aluminium/fibreglass GLARE in the Airbus A380. There are also concerns about contamination with alloys and the dumping of non-recyclable materials.
An airliner can be dismantled in 1,500-2,000 parts (1,000 or so LRUs) in 30–60 days including engines, landing gear, auxiliary power units and components but it can be parked a year or two to maximise the part harvesting. A metal aircraft can be recycled up to 85-90% by mass with a 95% goal, and 85-90% could be maintained for composite airframes as the industry adapts with a carbonfibre market growing 12-14% a year towards 100,000t in 2019 of which 50% could be satisfied with recycled material.
The Davis–Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona is home to 4,400 retired aircraft, primarily military, and the Mojave Air and Space Port has stored over 1000 civilian planes since recycling began. Purpose-built recycling platforms may be used, such as those of Bartin Aero Recycling at Châteauroux-Déols airport in France, Air Salvage International at Cotswold Airport, UK, and the Evergreen Aircenter, in Marana, US. Airbus has set up a centre in Tarbes Airport in France to research the decommission and recycling of older aircraft as part of the PAMELA Project.
- "Aircraft recycling best practice and the role of AFRA" (PDF). Aircraft Technology Engineering & Maintenance. October 2009. pp. 30–37.
- Michael Gubisch (5 March 2018). "Aircraft retirement wave poses challenges for recyclers". Flightglobal.
- Michael Bruno (Mar 7, 2019). "Analysts: Aerospace Boneyards Down To The Bones". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
- Lee Ann Shay (Nov 6, 2017). "Old Birds". Aviation Week Network. Smarter end-of-life strategies will cut into storage figures, Avolon says.
- Charles Chandler (28 February 2013). "Aircraft Recycling". AviationPros. Cygnus Business Media.
- Stephen Dowling (18 September 2014). "The secrets of the desert aircraft 'boneyards'". BBC.
- Claudia Heberlein (November 2006). "Vital Waste Graphics 2" (PDF). The Basel Convention Secretariat. p. 30.
- Bill Burchell (1 Feb 2006). "Recycling Aircraft". Aviation Week.
- Mohn, Tanya (16 July 2018). "From the Sky to Your Home, Plane Parts Get a Second Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
- Caroline Brothers (March 28, 2009). "Where Old Airplanes Go to Die". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
- Matt Hardigree (22 June 2010). "How To Recycle An Airplane". Jalopnik.
- Mario Cacciottolo (10 March 2010). "How do you recycle a jumbo jet?". BBC.
- Bill Carberry (28 Nov 2007). "Aircraft Scrapping and Recycling" (PDF). Airplane Environmental Performance. Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Disassembled aircraft.|
- Jet Yard (Nov 6, 2017). Boeing 777 Special Disassembly. Aviation Week Network.
special disassembly of a Boeing 777 airframe from just behind the wings to the tail
- Thierry Dubois (Dec 7, 2017). "Airbus, Safran, Suez See Future In Aircraft Recycling". Aviation Week Network. Aircraft recycling likely to remain profitable, despite increasing retirements and environmental challenges.
- Curt Epstein (December 26, 2017). "End of the Line: Bizjets to Beer Cans". AIN.