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(CNN) If you’re looking for a pair of lightly used widebody planes, you’d better get to Scotland quick and put in a bid — before two Boeing 787-8s formerly flying for Norwegian Air Shuttle are scrapped for parts.
Both planes are less than 10 years old, having been delivered in June and August 2013. Apart from a test bed removed by Boeing in 2018, these are the first Dreamliners to be retired, and their dismantling, which began in early March, is ongoing. at Prestwick Airport near Glasgow, Scotland.
“They are done side by side and it could take probably three to four months,” says Ken Fitzgibbon, CEO of EirTrade, the Dublin-based aviation trading company that runs the operation. “The disassembly process is similar to a production line, but it’s reverse engineering, and ultimately we aim to recycle about 95% of the planes.”
EirTrade has previous experience in scrapping young wide-body aircraft, having worked on retired A380s from Singapore Airlines and Air France, which were also around a decade old.
“The 787 is a very new aircraft and it’s probably difficult for people outside of aviation to understand this,” says Lee Carey, VP of asset management at Eirtrade, who points to maintenance costs as one of the reasons the planes are. cut “They came to their 12-year check, the heaviest maintenance event that will happen on these planes.”
As many other 787s that are still flying also come in for this major maintenance, demand for parts will increase, making the operation economically viable.
“These particular planes already had the engines removed a few weeks ago,” says Carey. “We then began the unloading operation to ensure that all hazardous fuels were removed and disposed of properly.”
After that, the planes were pulled into a hangar for dismantling. The dismantling team has a “harvest list” of material they want – basically where most of the value is. As components are removed, they are sent for repairs or overhauls, to get them back in shape: “After that, they will continue to be sold to airlines, maintenance companies, equipment manufacturers or aircraft leasing companies around the world to support the rest of the global 787 fleet. .”
Victims of the pandemic
The aircraft arrived at their current location at Prestwick Airport in Scotland for storage back in the summer of 2019, after about six years flying transatlantic routes for Norwegian, through leasing companies. They were part of a group of 35 Boeing 787s that were grounded due to problems with their engine blades, which cracked or corroded prematurely.
But even after a solution was found, the planes never returned to service, and then got stuck in the pandemic.
In 2020, Norwegian struggled to survive and filed for bankruptcy. The longer the 787s stayed on the ground, the more expensive it would be to get them flying again, because of the maintenance work required. As a result, they were no longer airworthy.
“Prestwick is a really terrible place to store an aircraft because it’s cold and wet and rainy and humid,” says Connor Diver, senior analyst at aviation analytics firm Cirium. “Not somewhere you’d plan to keep them for a long time. Maybe they were just planning to fix them, but then the other events happened.”
The condition of the aircraft probably played a large role in the fact that no airline came forward to buy them.
“The maintenance of a modern widebody is very, very expensive,” adds Diver. “If you’re behind and in bad shape, the costs to bring these up to working order would be prohibitive, most likely. The value of the parts then can be more than the value of the aircraft.”
The average value of a similarly aged Boeing 787-8 is about $30 million, but given the condition they were in, these two planes would be worth less and probably closer to $20 million, according to Diver. Scrapping them for parts and starting a second-hand component market for the 787 therefore became a more attractive option.
Earlier this year, a 10-year-old Boeing 747 in VIP configuration was scrapped with just 16 flights on the clock after failing to find a buyer. Several Airbus A380s of a similar age have already been recycled. Now, the 787 has entered the circus: is this the start of a worrying trend of young wide-body aircraft being retired too early?
“Never say never, but it could be an isolated incident,” says Diver. “Typically we would expect an airliner to remain in service for 20 to 25 years at least.”
“If they were in good condition and hadn’t been sitting there for three years, it’s very likely someone would want them.”