Aircraft are built to withstand high speeds, adverse weather and demanding missions. But are these majestic metal birds built to withstand the ultimate test: time?
In this write-up, we’ll be taking a look at the life cycle of a typical passenger aircraft, particularly as it nears the end of its life.
The Aircraft Life Cycle
The life cycle of an aircraft isn’t measured in years, as we’d naturally measure our own lives; neither is it measured in the number of hours it has flown. Rather, the life of an aircraft depends on how many take-offs and landings it has performed. To be exact, it is the number of pressurization cycles that an aircraft has undergone.
Every time an aircraft departs for a flight, and is pressurized, the wings and fuselage undergo stress (yes – planes, too, experience stress at work!). This added stress occurs most at take-off and landing.
As a result, short-haul aircraft are more susceptible to fatigue than long-haul aircraft, with less daily pressurization cycles. Consequently, airliners that experience fewer pressurization cycles can last 20 to 25 years – some are even still in service at 30 years old!
However, as all good things come to an end, so do the lives of aircraft. As aircraft (or engines) approach their end-of-life, they will be retired.
Rest In Peace… or Retire in Peace?
What comes to mind when you hear the word “retirement”?
A chance to catch up on all the hobbies you put aside to give way for work life? A trip around the world on a cruise ship, perhaps?
Whatever your retirement plans, we can’t say the same for aircraft. When an aircraft is retired, what that means is that the aircraft has reached the end of its life and will likely undergo teardown. Does this mean that when an aircraft is retired, it practically “dies”? Read on to find out!
In the past decade, Alton Aviation Consultancy reported that over 5,000 aircraft and 12,000 engines have been retired. Aircraft owners and lessors need a solid aircraft retirement plan so as to extract maximum value from their assets.
Some aviation solutions providers, such as Dviation, offer support from acquisition all the way to end-of-life. One asset management and retirement solution offered by Dviation is aircraft teardowns.
A typical airliner can be dismantled into 1,500 to 2,000 parts, including the engines, landing gear, and other components. The stages of an aircraft teardown process include:
- Draining service fluids, such as fuel and water
- Dismantling liquid parts from the wings, empennage and fuselage
- Disconnecting landing gear
- Removing the cabin
- Packing removed parts for dispatch to repair shops
- Recycling the remaining body
Aircraft teardown is an increasingly favourable end-of-life option because the spare parts removed from the retired aircraft can be repaired and re-certified. This creates an attractive alternative to spare parts from OEMs, known as aftermarket components. Generally, aftermarket components are more affordable and readily available than OEM parts.
So, do aircraft ever really “die”? Since an aircraft can be recycled up to 85-90% in mass, the answer is technically “no”. Aircraft don’t “die” – instead, their parts live on in other aircraft, and the recycled material can be incorporated into other components.