With the increasing number of retired aircraft – more than an estimated 6,000 within the next twenty years – the safe management of their end of life, both in terms of the environment and public health, has become a crucial issue. Usually, aircraft that are more than 30 years old end their life either stored on the airfield or outside the European Union. Spare parts can also be recycled and reintroduced in the market by scrap merchants or small maintenance companies. This latter option poses serious threats to the environment as it is very often conducted in an unsafe manner. Moreover the use of second-hand spare parts could create considerable safety risks.
Currently, there are no procedures for decommissioning aircraft in safe and environmentally responsible conditions (e.g. existing End of Life vehicle (ELV) rules are not aircraft specific). Hence, the project’s objectives were threefold. First, it would demonstrate, by full-scale experimentation on aircraft's, that 85- 95% of their components – instead of the most business practices that allow only for recovery rates of 60%, mostly of aluminium, the other materials being eliminated – can be easily recycled, reused or recovered. Second, the project would set up a new standard for safe and environmentally friendly management of End of Life Aircraft (ELA). It would cover the entire process, from storage at the pre-decommissioning phase, disassembling and dismantling, to the recycling or elimination of the materials. Finally, the project would launch a European network that is able to further disseminate the dismantling process.
The PAMELA project demonstrated the possibility of recycling up to 85% of plane components, a significant advance on the earlier rate of 60%. These activities were carried out in response to the high number of planes that will be retired within the next few years and its environmental and economic impact.
While the “smart and safe dismantling” method used during the project was simple, it had to respect the aircraft as well as the environment, health and safety (EHS) regulations. The project demonstration consisted of a succession of trials using available tools for deconstructing the plane that are adapted to the level of sorting required. All the operations were timed and all the parts removed from the plane weighed in order to establish the recycling rate. Besides the increased valorisation ratio up 85% in weight, the project demonstrated a re-use and recycling ratio of up to 70% in weight and a reduction of landfilled waste (less than 15% instead of 40-50%). Promising results were also achieved for metallic material recycling, especially aluminium, with savings in energy up to 90% and in mining resources.
An economic study compiled all collected data alongside current economic and social conditions in order to come to conclusions about the benefits that could be achieved in the current market.
The implementation of an End of Life Aircraft management platform is of major economic and social interest for Europe.