Flight Plan

The second life

| Updated on January 15, 2018

Born again: Planes being dismantled at the recycling yard of aerospace company Tarmac Aerosave in France. Parts such as landing gear and motors are shipped out to be reinstalled in new planes, while cockpits are reborn as flight simulators REUTERS

bl16_fp_recycle flight

Airlines are flying deeper into the recycling universe and are reaping the benefits, writes Ashwini Phadnis

Recycling is always a great thing — whatever the industry. It conserves energy, saves precious time and effort and is also good for the planet.

The airline industry has always been big on recycling. But salvaging items like aluminium cans, glass bottles and paper products (newspapers, magazines and cardboard cartons) used in cabin service on aircraft are passé.

The in-thing is to recycle uniforms, and in some cases even decommissioned aircraft. So is printing in-flight magazines on predominantly recycled paper. Call it an attempt to save the environment or to save money but most global airlines are now ensuring that almost every piece of material and equipment on their aircraft is recycled.

The Dutch way

Consider this, for instance. In 2010, the Dutch airline KLM decided to change its crew uniforms. Soon the airline realised that it had a 90,000 kg pile of old uniforms. Under “normal” circumstances it would have burnt the old uniforms for security reasons. The airline, however, decided to put this otherwise useless pile to better use. It launched an upcycling pilot project involving the conversion of old fabric into raw material for new projects.

This resulted in a beautifully designed bag and baggage label. But the airline was not done yet. The carpeting in its new World Business Class interior, which was laid in 2013, includes re-used Norwegian wool and parts of former KLM women’s uniform, making it the first company in the airline industry to use carpet on board that followed the cradle-to cradle principle.

“Reuse and recycling is just one of the pillars in KLM’s sustainability policy. Our goal for 2020 is to waste no raw material and to re-use or recycle 100 per cent of all waste,” a Representative of the KLM’s Press department in Amsterdam told BusinessLine.

British carrier Virgin Atlantic is not far behind. To ensure that it recycles as much as possible, it does not give its cabin crew a replacement uniform until they have returned their old ones. From these uniforms, the buttons are snipped off and used as spares or recycled into new ones. According to the Virgin Atlantic Sustainability Report 2015, last year the airline recycled 6.1 tonnes of uniforms with textile processing firm Wilcox. It reclaimed and remodelled the clothing for use in the UK or for export to Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

For its part Air France recycles four materials — textiles, plastics, metal and paper — with plastics mostly being re-used to produce new materials such as drawers and serving trays. Most textiles are recycled and used in the manufacturing of insulation materials for cars.

German airline Lufthansa ensures that life-vests on its aircraft are replaced as and when they expire. But the old ones are given a new lease of life with the help of designer Kerstin Rink.

“Rink uses these vests for chic bags and trendy accessories such as key chains, tablet/mobile covers, laptop sleeves, amenity kits and sleep masks,” said Wolfgang Will, Director, South Asia, Lufthansa. In 2014, more than 5,000 life jackets were re-purposed. Interestingly, Air France and KLM also use old life vests to make purses which are sold on board.

Fittings too

Emirates has gone one step further and re-uses and recycles aircraft fittings. The airline’s Flight Training facilities department acquired a set of seats from an Airbus A-340-500 that was being retired from the fleet and modified them to fit inside two emergency evacuation cabin simulators and two cabin-service training simulators. “The project extended the lifetime of the seats by another five to seven years,” said Essa Sulaiman Ahmad, Vice President, India and Nepal, Emirates.

Innovative airlines are recycling more of their products that have run their lifecycles. Lufthansa launched “2nd Life” with the aim of establishing an ecologically and economically sound recycling sequence for decommissioned aircraft. “Over 1,000 components, depending on the type of aircraft are recycled including landing gears, engines and auxiliary power units, cabin elements such as monitors and windows as well as instruments and data entry units in the cockpits,” Will said. Since the start of the project, 37 Lufthansa Group aircraft have been recycled through “2nd Life.”

Virgin Atlantic collects all the food waste (and disposable items that have been in contact with food) from London Heathrow and London Gatwick airports. These are taken to an ‘energy from waste’ facility, where the waste is incinerated for electricity generation.

Explaining the process behind the recycling effort, Ahmad says that whether the items on a particular flight can be recycled or not depends on the availability of suitable recycling facilities at the aircraft’s destination.

“A further limitation is the quarantine regulations imposed in some countries that are intended to prevent the spread of agricultural diseases,” he told BusinessLine.

Published on November 15, 2016

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor