Urban Ghosts: The Boneyard Where Planes Go to Die

Have you ever wondered what happens to airplanes when an airline decides it has no use for it? Well they head for the boneyard, a colloquial term given to aircraft facilities where out-of-use airplanes can be sent to be sold, stored or scrapped.

Storing retired planes can be expensive and impractical, yet throwing them into landfill isn’t environmentally friendly – just think of all that wasted non recycled steel. That’s why boneyards exist; to strip down aircrafts and recycle the parts and steel.

How does a plane end up in the boneyard?

There are a number of reasons why a plane might find itself headed for the boneyard:

  1. A plane usually has a lifespan of around 25 years. After this time they begin to wear out and become a safety issue.
  2. An airline might find a compelling case for replacing the airplane. This is generally because a newer model offers a competitive advantage in the air space, such as improved fuel efficiency. The result is the older models end up in the boneyard
  3. In shaky times, an airline business might restructure, resulting in some of their crafts either being sold to another airline, or send to the boneyard until such a time where they can be restored to working order.

Not the end of the line…

When a plane arrives at a boneyard, a lot of care has to be taken to ensure the area surrounding is not polluted. Specialist crew at the recycling factory purge the aircraft of hazardous substances such as batteries, fuel, and oil.  The next stage is to unmask the plane, unmasking bolts and fasteners, before stripping the plane of its assets, including black box, flight controls, doors and air conditioning systems. Recycling steel on the plane can be difficult, due to many materials, such as stainless steel, aluminium steel, and titanium, being stuck together. There’s a lot of work that goes into separating them so that they can be reused in their purest form.

While what remains of the airplane is crushed into a pulp, it’s not the end of the line for other crafts. Parts such as the engine, landing gear and windshield are always likely to find a home on a new model or the body can be sold to filmmakers, museums, or those who are keen to turn transform the steel frame into their new home, café, or bar.

At ShapeCUT, we’re fascinated by the ways in which steel is manufactured, recycled, and reused to create robust, enduring inventions. We know a thing or two about steel too – we’re Queensland’s premier provider of steel profile cutting. Get in touch with us today to discuss our laser cutting, oxy cutting, high definition plasma cutting, and machining services.