New Delhi (NVI): The iconic jumbo jet, Boeing 747, recently announced that it is withdrawing its entire fleet of the planes. The world’s biggest operator is the latest victim of the slump in air travel caused by the pandemic that has seen passenger numbers decline by almost two-thirds.
Two-thirds of the world’s airliners were grounded in April by the collapse in air travel caused by the pandemic, according to aviation data source Cirium.
So what happens to planes when they retire? Some will live on flying for other airlines, while a second option is to use them as freighters.
Cargo conversions of the smaller Boeing 777 and 767 have proved popular and a freight conversion of the A300 – the original Airbus, first built in 1972 – is still flying parcels for DHL.
Aircraft all have finite lives – the period they are safe to fly before metal fatigue poses a safety threat. When their time is up there is still value in a plane’s many systems and parts and breaking them up for spares is increasingly profitable.
That’s because while the plane itself may need retiring, most parts will have been replaced many times. Everything from the engines and undercarriages to the seats and window blinds may have years of life left when the plane is scrapped.
In addition to this, the second-hand aviation spares market is so big that Honeywell, which also makes new aircraft parts, set up a blockchain-based online marketplace to allow airlines to buy validated used parts. It sold USD 5 million worth of spares last year.
Airbus subsidiary Satair, which specializes in recovering parts from retired Airbus airliners, says the total market for recycled airliner parts will reach USD 6 billion by 2022 – 70 percent of that coming from the sale of used engines and their parts.
Furthermore, not all retired planes live on or become donors. Some simply go into storage. For example, the dry atmosphere of the Southwestern US makes it a popular location for aircraft boneyards, such as in California’s Mojave Desert, where planes wait in the often forlorn hope of a recall to the skies.
Others end up as museum exhibits. The prototype 747 – serial number 001 – has been restored at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. When the museum reopens after the pandemic, it may be among the last places you can climb aboard a jumbo jet.