An aircraft will typically remain in service for around 20-25 years. During that time, it will fly on average 40,274,144 kilometres – over 1,000 times around the world – with some long-haul aircraft flying over 100 million kilometres, for several airlines. Once it reaches the end of its useful life, an aircraft can be recycled not only to ensure proper disposal but also to take advantage of the many high-quality components and materials of which they are made.

The Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association is working with 72 companies such as manufacturers of aircraft and engines, component suppliers and operators, to establish best practice guidelines for the disposal and recycling of aircraft. These organisations recycle over 150 aircraft and 30,000 tonnes of aluminium a year. Manufacturers are also ensuring that new aircraft are designed not only for a long, safe and efficient life, but also for end-of-life opportunities. The Airbus PAMELA project, begun in 2005, demonstrated that more than 70% of the weight of an aircraft can re-used or recovered. This project lead to the creation of Tarmac Aerosave with partners including Safran. This company specialises in recycling aircraft and is now able to re-use and recover materials making up over 90% of an aircraft’s weight.

New materials such as carbon fibre present new challenges for aircraft designers to find ways of dealing with the materials once the product leaves service. Processes are being developed to allow these new materials to be recovered and potentially recycled once the aircraft reaches the end of its useful lifespan.