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The Airbus A380 entered service almost two decades ago, but although passengers loved it, it was doomed from the start. Too large and too expensive for airlines to operate due to its four engines, it quickly fell out of favor, superseded by more fuel-efficient twin-engine jets.
After its launch in 2005, Airbus built just 251 A380s – far fewer than it originally intended – and production ended at the end of 2021. Although most of them are still flying, Post-Covid recovery Many of the aircraft have already been scrapped or recycled – well ahead of the normal schedule for passenger aircraft.
“The A380 is certainly one of the youngest aircraft to be recycled,” says Geoff Van Kloren, aviation analyst at advisory firm IBA. “Typically a commercial aircraft can be expected to operate for 25 years before decommissioning.”
Only a handful of companies are capable of recycling the world’s largest passenger aircraft, and the most experienced is Tarmac Aerosave, which in 2007 recycled more than 300 aircraft at three sites in France and Spain. Is. The company, which is partly owned by Airbus itself, has already recycled six A380s. The seventh is currently being worked on and will be completed in March.
Tarmac won’t say exactly which airlines these A380s flew with, but Van Kloren believes they likely came from Air France, Singapore Airlines and Emirates. This is not an easy task. “The A380 is difficult to dismantle in the sense that there is a limited market for parts,” he says.
“That said, being an aluminum frame, it’s easier than a composite aircraft like the A350 or the Boeing 787, where there’s currently no way to recycle the airframe and just cut it into pieces or bury it. carried or stored.”
How do you recycle such a large aircraft, and what happens to the resulting parts and materials? “Recycling starts with reusing various aircraft components and extending their life, just like you do at home,” says Lionel Roques, Sales Director of Tarmac Aerosave. “So the first step is to take out some of the pieces that will continue to fly on other aircraft.”
These include engines, landing gear and some avionics – the aircraft’s electronic components that handle functions such as communications or navigation. These parts are checked and resold with full traceability, guaranteeing their airworthiness. In the case of A380 parts, they become additional components for the existing fleet of A380s. They can also be used for training purposes. “Sometimes we can give them to schools or training facilities so new mechanics or students coming into the industry can train on real parts,” says Roques.
This part of the process usually lasts a few weeks. After that’s done, they move on to the next step: waste management. “This is where we separate all the different materials, whether it’s aluminum, titanium or copper,” says Roques, “and make sure we give them the proper recovery channels that turn them into something new tomorrow.” Will use again.”
Due to the large size of the A380, which only has 120 tonnes of aluminium, this phase lasts for months, and is particularly difficult. Roux explains: “Because it’s such a large aircraft, you need a large facility, and you need to adapt your tooling and your methods to something that’s that big. You need safety. And you also have to be careful about the work environment, because when you get a mechanic working on the second deck of the plane, it’s really overwhelming.”
Tarmac says it is committed to recycling “down to the last patch”, and although there are no specific regulations in the field, it aims to recover more than 90% of aircraft by weight. “The residual waste is as minimal as possible. Of course, there will be some composite materials or some hazardous materials that cannot be recycled, but we are talking about a small percentage, like 1% to 3%. %, which would be residual waste or go to landfill,” says Roux.
He says the cost of the operation is in the region of “six figures”. This is highly dependent on the number of parts that need to be removed from the aircraft – and these can vary based on the client’s requirements.
But there’s also a different way of working: upcycling. Or as Roques puts it: “Extracting parts that are popular or interesting to use as decorative elements.” Late last year, Airbus, in an effort to raise money for charity, and Auction of hundreds of parts From the ex-Emirates A380.
This allowed aviation enthusiasts to purchase almost every piece of aircraft, from small items such as door stops, seat belts, handrails, exit signs, latches, lamps, curtains and kettles to rows of seats. Heavy objects include ladders, drink carts and engine parts. , some of which came in special editions painted by a range of artists.
The most coveted item, however, was a full business cabin bar, measuring over seven feet, which has become one of the aircraft’s symbols in its iconic Emirates configuration. It sold for about $50,000.
A380 parts obtained from recycling will be needed for a long time to support the existing fleet of aircraft, especially as more airlines bring their superjumbos back into service. It was the latest to do so Qantas, which resurrected one of its own after two years of storage. Meanwhile, both Etihad and Lufthansa are expected. Bring in part of your idle A380 fleet Back in service early 2023.
“The life of the A380 is not yet written, and you need spare parts to support operations. The fact that we are now decommissioning the aircraft and putting spare parts into the market, Hawaii Longer operation of the ship will help,” says Roux.
He believes that in the future, A380 operators will consolidate, leaving just one for each major region: British Airways for the Atlantic, Emirates for the Middle East, Qantas for Oceania and Singapore for Asia.
He also thinks we’ll never see an airplane again. “It’s a unique and unique aircraft, and its life will be extended as long as possible – but I can’t see anything replacing it.”