Tarmac Aerosave provides services to keep aircraft in flying condition or recycle them at the end of their lifecycles. With Airbus as a shareholder, the company began operations in 2009 at Tarbes, southwest France. As of 2013, it has started running a second site at Teruel, northeast Spain, with an aircraft storage capacity 10 times that of Tarbes. Airbus helped lay the basis for this with its PAMELA project in 2005, which involved dismantling an Airbus A300 and the A380 static test version, reusing and recycling the maximum number of items and reprocessing the dangerous materials.
Tarmac Aerosave is part of a sustainable development process, and all its activities are undertaken in accordance with the highest environmental and safety criteria. In the last three years, the company has stored over 120 aircraft and recycled more than 40 from worldwide. Alongside recycling, it offers storage and maintenance services. With space for 250 aircraft, its bases enable customers to keep their aircraft in storage conditions and then either restore them to flight conditions for a new life or recycle them.
The recycling process begins with removing the plane’s interior fittings and moveable parts. The components – from flight deck instruments to control surfaces and landing gear – are meticulously labelled, logged in a database with a photo and packaged up in customised crates. Tarmac Aerosave also manages shipping. For example, landing gear and wing flaps can be reinstalled in new planes while cockpits are reborn as flight simulators. All parts that are saved can be sold on by the aircraft owners.
The next step sees the airframe being dismantled using, for example, a dedicated, dust-free fuselage cutting process and a wire cutting process that avoids hot points and mixing of materials. As a result, 90% of the total weight of the aircraft can be recovered. Predictions state that more than 12,000 aircraft will be retired or withdrawn from service over the next 20 years, meaning that there is a clear need to dispose of planes in an environmentally friendly way, rather than leaving them to rust in deserts or at airports.
Through this process, recycling techniques for certain metals have also been improved. For instance, previously the plane used to be crushed along with the aluminium. Now, techniques allow the metal both to be recovered and its quality maintained so that it can be resold to foundries for reuse on new aircraft. Dismantling old aircraft will also allow engineers to design more efficient future aircraft. Understanding how parts erode, decay or develop over time is valuable knowledge that can be transferred into new designs.
The recycling work Tarmac Aerosave carries out extends to CFM56 engines. The work involves major module to piece parts dismantling, and component tracking, packaging and shipping. CFM56 turbofan engines are co-produced by GE and SNECMA and are fitted to Airbus A340 and A320 Family aircraft, among others. Altogether, they have clocked up over 53,000 years’ flight time.