Paris Air Show

Airbus offshoot starts aircraft dismantling business in Tarbes

 - June 17, 2009, 9:38 AM

Tarmac Aerosave–an Airbus joint venture with waste treatment specialist Sita, engine maker Snecma, engineering firm Aeroconseil, maintenance company Equip’Aero and spare parts specialist TASC Aviation–has begun aircraft dismantling operations in Tarbes, southwest France. In February, Tarmac moved into its new 97,000-sq-ft facilities, which include a hangar able to house an A380 and storage areas for up to 20 aircraft.

New processes are helping make the business both cleaner and more profitable. However, highly variable commodity markets make it impossible to deconstruct every aircraft in the most economic way, company officials told AIN.

Operations commence with decommissioning, starting with the task of getting rid of all fluids, many of them pollutants. A six-week phase of equipment removal, involving 12 technicians, is undertaken simultaneously. Seats, windows, engines and everything that is still airworthy will be sold onto the spare parts market. Finally, the actual dismantling phase lasts three weeks, with four employees.

Tarmac has developed a spectrometer to sort the various types of aluminum alloys. This way, some can be reused in aeronautical applications. In a 100-metric-ton Airbus A300, the various aluminum alloys account for 65 tons, while titanium weighs five tons and steel 1.5 tons. So far, Tarmac has deconstructed five aircraft.

From an economic standpoint, using an A310 that still holds a $7 million residual value as an example, parts and equipment can be sold on the spares market for the same amount. The final dismantling phase can cost $70,000. Therefore, profits can be achieved if the metals can be sold for more than the dismantling cost.

Tarmac technicians use equipment from the nuclear industry to slice up a fuselage, a process that takes two to four days. (The company hopes soon to reduce this to one day.) “Employing a diamond cable has several benefits,” head of deconstruction Sébastien Medan said. “There is no hot spot and no spark, and it uses water cooling which absorbs the dust.”

The establishment of Tarmac Aerosave is a follow-on to a research-and-development project called Pamela. That project  showed that 85 percent of the dry weight of an aircraft can be recycled (that is, sold), instead of the more common 50 to 60 percent, according to Airbus. The 15 percent that cannot be recycled includes a very small part of hazardous material, low-value plastics, foams and insulation materials.

However, composites comprise a very small portion of dismantled airframes. And,while exhaustively recovering all alloys is a good use of resources, it is not always economical. How much of the proceeds Tarmac can keep depends on whether or not the customer retains aircraft ownership.  

Tarmac has a workforce of 12, which it  aims to increase to 50 in the next three or four years, according to CEO Philippe Fournadet. By that time, he hopes the firm will have $8 million in annual revenues, derived from processing 50 aircraft per year.
They will either be dismantled (70 percent) or stored (30 percent). Some 100 aircraft are taken out of service every year. This number is expected to reach 300 in future.

The company also wants to grow a maintenance business, for which it now holds an EASA 145 certificate. Another activity is long-term aircraft storage.