Finnair intends to dismantle and recycle an Airbus A319 aircraft, which has reached the end of its economic lifecycle at 21 years. The dismantling will begin at Helsinki Airport, where Finnair’s mechanics will remove parts that can be used elsewhere in Finnair’s fleet. These include the engine, seats, landing gear and avionics components.
“This is the first time that a Finnair aircraft is dismantled and recycled in Finland. We made the decision to take the plane apart at our home hub to optimize sustainability and economics”, says Juha Ojala, Vice President of Finnair’s Technical Operations. “This project allows us to improve the cost efficiency of maintenance operations and employ our mechanics during the pandemic when their normal workload has decreased.”
Before this, Finnair’s aircraft have been recycled elsewhere in Europe when they’ve reached the end of their lifecycle. Most companies that do this type of work are located in dry zones, where the climate is favorable for long-term storage of aircraft. This is the first time that a commercial aircraft will be dismantled in Finland. It’s an unusual project for Finnair, as it’s different from the company’s normal maintenance work, especially when it comes to planning and project management.
Aircraft have a pre-determined maximum service goal, as the body of the aircraft can only handle a set number of pressurizations. After this, the aircraft needs to be taken out of use in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. The recyclability of the aircraft and its parts is considered already at the design phase. As much as 98% of a new aircraft can be reused and recycled. With older aircraft, like the A319, about 90% can be reused.
“Many parts of the plane that will be dismantled – like landing gear, engines, the auxiliary power unit and avionics – can be utilized in Finnair’s maintenance operations, which supports both sustainability as well as cost efficiency,” Juha Ojala explains. “The parts that will be reused will be carefully inspected and overhauled. Smaller elements, like seat covers or cabin curtains, can also be reused.”
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Finnair is no stranger to recycling its old planes sustainably, ensuring parts can be reused and waste is kept to a minimum.
Just last year an Airbus A319-112, part of the A32S fleet, was sent to the Cotswolds in England to be dismantled by our expert partners. And now, one of its sister aircraft, another A319, is about to undergo the same treatment. Except this time the recycling will be done on home soil.
“This will be the first commercial airliner to be recycled in Finland,” says Timo Rossi, Project Manager for Finnair Technical Operations. It’s all part of Finnair’s sustainability strategy, ensuring that older planes that have completed years of service can be taken apart safely and their parts reused.
GETTING TO WORK
Taking apart the A319, which has flown a massive 54,710 hours across 32,966 flights over a period of 21 years, is a big job. One that starts at Helsinki Airport.
“It’s going to be done in three parts,” says Timo, explaining the process. “Finnair is going to remove bigger components such as the wings, engines, landing gears, auxiliary power unit (APU). Then a couple of hundred other parts will be taken off for eventual use in our active flying fleet.” This work is completed under Part 145 aircraft maintenance approvals, a European standard for companies involved in aircraft maintenance.
Once the component removals have been done by Finnair staff at Helsinki Airport, the remaining parts of the aircraft will be transported to an external partner for further dismantling.
“We’ve calculated the component removals will take roughly eight weeks,” says Timo. “At Helsinki Airport it will take around a day to cut off the wings and the tail to get the aircraft transported to the final recycling location. The current plan is to start in the middle of February, with the work of our partner finishing in late March or early April.”
SUSTAINABILITY THE GOAL
Once the aircraft has been fully dismantled, the parts that are leftover will form a vital part of Finnair’s future, says Timo.
“As an airline, our plan is to reuse as many parts as possible. Our partner will be able to recycle more than 90 percent of the remaining aircraft, maybe 95 percent. The exact numbers will be more clear once the work is done. They’re able to recycle nearly all of it. They have already said that the waste from the aircraft will be really minor.”
“Components and parts from all over the aircraft will be reused depending on our needs at the time. All parts will be carefully inspected and if necessary, repaired. Landing gears can be installed on another aircraft as those have been recently overhauled. And the APU is going to be reused too, as well as a lot of avionics components. We are storing the parts in our own stock, so that gives us more flexibility to support the rest of our fleet going forward.”
A FIRST FOR FINLAND
Choosing to recycle this A319 in Finland has allowed Finnair to utilize the expertise of its maintenance staff and lay plans for future recycling of its fleet too.
“There have been a lot of bad effects from Covid, but the pandemic has given us an opportunity to do this for the first time [in Finland],” says Timo. “It gives quite a lot of workload to our employees, because their current workload has decreased compared with this time last year. Now we have resources that we are able to use.”
Timo says that all of this effort is a test to see if Finnair can recycle an aircraft at home, rather than having to fly them to other countries to get the job done. He and his team will have a clearer idea of the entire process once the work is done.
“We need to get through this, to put everything on paper and see what the numbers are. What is the benefit we are getting out of it? The sustainability and environmental point of view needs to be thought through too.”