Canadian Manufacturing

Pair of Montreal firms team up to make city an aircraft recycling hub

Air Transat partners with Aerocycle as pair looks to establish environmental plane dismantling standard

MONTREAL—A pair of firms are hoping to bring Montreal’s reputation as an aerospace hub full circle, working to make the city a go-to destination for aircraft recycling.

The goal to make the city a centre of excellence for the dismantling of retired aircraft comes after Air Transat, the airline subsidiary of Montreal-based tour operator Transat A.T. Inc., teamed up with Aerocycle to tear down two of the operator’s Airbus A310 passenger jets.

The first step in the process, according to Estelle Beaudry, vice-president of business development and environment with Aerocycle, is parts dismantling—salvaging useable materials that can either be sold for scrap or kept by the aircraft owner for use on other planes.

Next up is decontamination, where Aerocycle crews remove all dangerous goods and fluids from the retired aircraft.

“This is a very important part in the process that we need to make sure is done safely and in an environmentally (responsible) manner to avoid risk,” Beaudry said.

The final step is teardown, where the fuselage is stripped completely for recycling of its aluminium components.

According to Beaudry, the entire process—from stripping the interior to final teardown—can take three to four months to complete.

“The parts that don’t go back to the aircraft (fleets) or into the aerospace industry—the materials that are metal—are recycled completely,” she said. “Some of the plastic can (also) be recycled.”

All materials are recycled locally in the Montreal area, Beaudry said.

The composite materials—mostly carbon-based components—cannot be recycled, but make up only a small percentage of the aircraft.

The deal with Air Transat for the Airbus dismantling was a heady task for the folks at Aerocycle: The job had to be done in an environmentally responsible manner, living up to standards set out by the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA).

The results were outstanding, with Aerocycle successfully recovering 87 per cent of the components from the two aircraft—including some 83 tonnes of aluminium.

That’s two per cent more than the 85 per cent necessary to qualify as sustainable under the AFRA standards.

Those standards outlined by Washington, D.C.-based AFRA and its more than five dozen member companies, however, are voluntary, meaning that there is no mandated compliance in the industry.

Now Aerocycle and Air Transat are hoping to change that, and are gunning to establish an environmental standard in North America—and in the process make Montreal the top spot on the continent for recycling end-of-life aircraft.

“It’s the world’s third-biggest aerospace hub (behind Seattle and Toulouse, France),” Beaudry said of Montreal. “Why not close the loop by adding a real end-of-life recycling centre for aerospace?”

And with an AFRA-estimated 12,000 commercial aircraft in need of dismantling over the next 20 years, the job could be big business for the region.

“Our goal is to take a little percentage of the market and to bring that to Canada,” Beaudry said, referring to the roughly 300 commercial aircraft that are to be recycled around the globe annually over the next two decades.

“There’s a demand for responsible aircraft recycling here in Canada.”

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