Industry Braces for ‘Tsunami’ of Aircraft Retirements

 - June 18, 2014, 3:46 PM
Retired airliners await their ultimate fate in the Arizona desert. (Photo: AFRA)

The aviation industry will see as many as 1,000 airplanes exit commercial fleets each year within the next decade as a combination of demographics conspire to create a retirement “tsunami,” IFC International principal Richard Brown told delegates attending the June 15 to 17 Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA) annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

The rapid increase in the number of aircraft reaching the end of their service life will result from cyclical rather than structural phenomena, claimed Brown. “The combination of demographics as aircraft reach the end of their economic life, low interest rates, relatively high fuel prices and the introduction of new models is causing the retirement of unprecedented numbers of aircraft, while new technology and OEM production rates are also exacerbating aircraft retirements,” said Brown.

Also appearing at the AFRA meeting, Boeing Commercial Airplanes managing director of environment strategy Julie Felgar concurred. “A wave of aircraft retirements is coming,” she said, citing data that suggests that 41 percent of today’s fleet will leave service in the next 20 years as airlines procure more fuel-efficient airplanes.

“There is a significant opportunity for companies to dismantle and recycle these retired airplanes to the highest standard rather than parking them in the desert,” added Felgar.

AFRA has recently worked with the UK Environment Agency in helping it reach a position regarding the treatment of retired aircraft. The association calls itself a preferred reference source on the best environmental practices for end-of-service aircraft disassembly.

“We have had some success in strengthening industry recognition of AFRA’s accreditation,” said AFRA executive director Martin Fraissignes. “The broader aviation community, OEMs, airlines and lessors have indicated in aircraft disassembly tender documents that they look favorably on applicants conducting teardowns to AFRA standards. But we still have work to do, to ensure that AFRA accreditation becomes the industry standard.”