Did You Know What Happens When the Plane Reaches Its Retirement Age?


There are about 50 000 airplanes in the world and demand is still growing. While one airplane is getting old the other is being constructed due to the need of more economical and ecological technologies. But did you know what happens to an aircraft when an airline doesn’t need it anymore?

It may seem that most of the planes are being recycled but it is the last thing to do to an old aircraft. You should know that there are a few more steps and some of them will take your breath away.


Even though a plane has its value at the end of its flying life, it is very expensive to store an unused plane in someplace warm and dry. That is why most of old airplanes are stored in the cheapest places possible – dry deserts where planes are being taken care of. We should take a note that these places are not just useful – they are also astonishing and often remind of a museum where old aircraft are shown.

Let’s take a look at some of them and try to imagine what it would feel like to explore these places:

AMARC the biggest plane graveyard, Tucson, Arizona, USA

More than 4,000 military aircraft are parked on the base, from B-52s to stealth bombers, where they are salvaged for parts and broken down for scrap.

Mojave Air & Space Port, California

The largest graveyard for commercial passenger jets in the United States.

An abandoned aerodrome in Ukraine

In the central part of Ukraine lies this abandoned aircraft graveyard. It might be called Cold War relic, because it features a great number of abandoned helicopters, jets and other craft. This graveyard was empty for a very long time. The craft are rusted and battered, presumably because of tough Ukrainian winters.

Later on, there are several more steps that have to be taken into account:

  • An aircraft is full of toxic or radioactive materials as well as fluids that are no longer useful in a plane. Everything what can be dangerous is carefully removed from an airplane;
  • Also an engine, which is the most valuable part of an aircraft, can be resold whole or parted; approximately, one engine has been on 50 airplanes;
  • Such parts, as avionics and electronics have to be removed; things like the electronic bits, computers and black box recorders are useful and can be resold;
  • Interior is a part which makes up about 30 % of an aircraft; comparing the value that you can get from, for instance, an automobile seat, it may be worth from 40 to 80 €, while with an aircraft it can balance from 400 to 4800 €;
  • Stripping the metals is also a process that creates a great value for an owner. For instance, Boeing 747, once stripped, can produce 100 tons of metals, such as aluminum, alloys or separate parts that can be used in the future;
  • The last part of aircraft recycling process is sending it to the shredder – when all valuable parts of an aircraft are taken off it is finally prepared to be shredded.


Not all planes go to the shredder. A few are saved to produce films. Stooging’s planes have been used in films like War of the Worlds and, most famously, the Delta Lockheed L-1011 in Lost. Other uses for a plane’s shell include training for flight attendants, pilots, and first-responders.

Aircraft makers are increasingly turning to retired airplanes as a source of metals and other materials that can be recycled, possibly to fly again in new generations of aircraft.

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