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Press Release Environmental Technologies

Aircraft recycling on Germany's radar

Berlin (gtai) - There's a certain logic to decisions by airlines to purchase a fleet of new aircraft these days. With fuel prices climbing, environmentalists standing in carbon footprints and shaking angry fists at aged fuel-burners, air safety a permanent news item and technology in new airplanes advancing almost exponentially, the business case is usually convincing.

But it does create a challenge: where do all the old ones go? Scrapyards for cars are one thing, but where on earth are we going to store and scrap the aircraft? There are c. 12,000 retired aircraft likely to be made redundant over the next 15 years, according to the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association - AFRA.

Europe is not a big player in aircraft scrapping and recycling, but with the most likely aircraft recycling business model a decentralized one with multitudes of specialist companies dealing with the multitudinous different materials in aircraft parts, it might well grow to be so, especially in Germany.

"We have an ideal business structure to deal with the variety of operations, logistical solutions and legal framework demanded for aircraft recycling in Germany", said Flérida Regueira, Senior Manager of Environmental Technologies at Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI).

"There is an excellent transport infrastructure, backed up by a vast SME landscape, more than capable of efficiently dividing out the huge number of tasks inherent in recycling aircraft."

Recycling is a big deal in Germany, it is an integral part of the culture. With almost 200,000 employees in some 3,000 companies, the industry generates revenue of around EUR 40bn. The concepts of resource efficiency and CO2 reduction are both integral to the aggressive Energiewende policy.

Currently, the aim is to move forward from waste management to resource management, so should aircraft head to Germany for a final resting place, that place is then also a home for the high-value materials those 12,000 aircraft are built from. Those materials include among others aluminum, copper, carbon fiber and titanium. Carbon fiber has been the subject of a partnership between Boeing and BMW, who have used the recycled material in the passenger compartments of their new i3 and i8 electric cars.

There are also hundreds of tons of valuable spare parts: drives and parts of the navigation system for example, which still comply with authorities’ airworthiness requirements. These can be returned to the aviation industry and re-installed in new aircraft rather than just dumped. A maintenance, repair and operation market, replete with business model, has already existed for these parts for some ten years now. The big riddle is what to do with the batteries, which cannot be disposed of in landfill or by incineration.

The Association of German Aerospace Industries (BDLI), together with Germany Trade and Invest, Germany’s inward investment promotion agency, will be hosting a panel discussion on this subject at the Berlin Air Show (ILA Berlin), entitled 'Closing the life cycle gap: The future of aircraft recycling in Germany', to discuss what is set to be a burgeoning industry in Germany and Europe over the next few years.

In the panel discussion, which will feature high-caliber guests from the industry, the different facets of aircraft recycling, including maintenance, repair and operations facets, will be presented. Particular emphasis will be paid to the potential of Germany and Europe's well-developed recycling industry as a foundation for aircraft recycling to develop here. The discussion will be moderated by Prof. Dr. Martin Faulstich, Chair of the German Advisory Council on Environment. Attendance is free and registration can be made here:

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