When the circular economy meets aviation

(21 Feb 2019) With booming air travel putting significantly more planes in the sky, aerospace firms and governments have sought ways to replace raw materials with renewable and recycled ones in producing their parts.

Here’s a look at how the aircraft manufacturing industry has moved towards a circular economy.

About 400 to 600 commercial aircraft are retired and disassembled each year now, creating mountains of waste that include about 30,000 tonnes of aluminium, 1,800 tonnes of alloys, 1,000 tonnes of carbon fibre and 600 tonnes of other materials.

To make matters worse, with the sharp increase in air travel in the past few decades, as many as 18,000 planes could reach the end of their service life in the 14 years between 2017 and 2030, according to the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Faced with the spectre of growing waste volumes, and with cost considerations in mind, aerospace companies and governments have developed ways to use fewer raw materials in manufacturing aircraft, and to replace them with recycled materials instead.

In 2014, American aerospace firm Boeing started to recycle about 22 million pounds of scrap aluminium from its factories annually, turning it into aircraft parts. In 2016, a coalition of European and Chinese companies, universities and research institutions, funded by their governments, started a three-year joint project to create renewable biomaterials that can be used to make airplane components.

External link

, 21 Feb 2019: When the circular economy meets aviation