Here’s Where Airplanes Go When They're Retired

Airplanes can’t fly forever, so what happens when they’re retired? Many of them make a final flight to a disassembly specialist like Air Salvage International to be broken up for recycling or transport to a landfill. So if you want to be technical about it, you might say that all planes must die and go toward building another plane.

About 95% of planes can be recycled. How much can be recycled depends on a plane’s design and age. Most parts are sold to plane manufacturers. Other parts, though, receive more glamorous treatment: Air Salvage International has sold plane parts to be used in films such as World War Z and Star Wars. One lucky aircraft even starred in a fashion advert with a ballerina.

However, the interior plastic side panels and baggage bins can be problematic – especially in the wide-bodied Boeing 747s, because of their size.

Sometimes, these planes bring unexpected surprises – like the $4 million worth of cocaine that company engineers found inside an airplane bathroom in 2010. “The drugs were actually worth more than the value of the aircraft,” CEO and founder of ASI Mark Gregory said. Police seized the haul, possibly hidden during a trans-Atlantic flight from South America to Europe several months earlier.

Retired Airplanes

ASI, located in central England, provides an “end-of-life service” for between 50 to 60 planes at its Cotswold Airport base each year.

Mark Gregory wants this company to serve as a hub for planes. He told The Huffington Post, "We’d like to look after them from cradle to grave." He also notes, that when planes arrive for disassembly, they're usually still safe for travel.

“They’re fully airworthy when they arrive and sometimes look like they’re about to go on another trip with a load of holiday-makers on board,” Mark Gregory, ASI’s founder and CEO. “It can be quite sad”.