With only 400 to 500 aircraft being torn down each recent year, used parts have been relatively scarce and valuable. When might the parts drought end?
“Part demand is linked to what aircraft are flying,” says Derk‑Jan van Heerden, CEO of The Netherlands’ Aircraft End-Of-Life Solutions. Van Heerden says there are few aircraft to disassemble today and thus fewer used parts. This has happened for three reasons. The economy is booming, acceptable fuel prices make flying older aircraft attractive, and there are problems with new engines: production problems on narrowbody engines and sustainment issues on new widebody engines.
The AELS CEO does not see any relief from these challenges soon. Instead, “I see several airlines reconsidering plans, keeping aircraft flying and even getting them back again. Such as BA on 747-400s and Virgin on A340-600s. The only availability is aircraft that have less desirability in the market, such as the A340 and smaller widebodies like the A319 and 737-700.”
To alter tear-down activity and used-part availability much, van Heerden believes at least two of the three restraining factors, fuel prices, economic growth and engine problems, have to change. No change in the first two really seems on the horizon. For example, IATA’s latest passenger forecast sees growth of 5.5% to 7.1% as most likely in 2019, very robust by historical standards. And Gulf Coast jet-fuel future prices are pretty flat, around $2.10 per gallon, through 2021.
Still, AELS wants to add staff in 2019. Van Heerden says he has not encountered challenges in recruiting new tear-down workers yet, “but this is becoming an issue.” His shop is in the relatively remote Dutch town of Zoetermeer. “We . . . do not compete for aircraft mechanics but compete with all other technical companies in all fields, from sales to management to blue-collar workers.”