Wednesday, March 05, 2008

How aircraft are converted into spoons and pots

Published: Wednesday, 5 Mar 2008

That shiny aluminium pot sitting on your stove is probably much more travelled than you are. Indeed, it could have clocked thousands of kilometres flying to various destinations worldwide when it served a more high profile role as part of a commercial jetliner.

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Aircraft being dismantled at the ‘graveyard’, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. Inset: pot and spoons

Just like other types of equipment, aircraft do not last forever. They must be grounded permanently one day either because they are no longer airworthy, after completing the maximum number of pressurisation cycles (take-off-flight-landing), which the airframe can take, or they are no longer economical to operate.

A typical Boeing 737 will fly 75,000 pressuriation cycles or 51,000 hours, which is equivalent to 20 years of active service. Bigger aircraft on long-haul routes, which experience relatively lower numbers pressurisation cycles, will last longer.

However, on retirement, such aircraft are confined to the “graveyard” or converted to other uses.

Investigations by our correspondent reveal that disused aircraft are sold as scrap to dealers who strip the usable parts for resale. They hack the aluminium airframe (body) to small pieces to be melted down for conversion to spoons, pots and industrial moulds for small-scale factories

A visit to the “graveyard” at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos revealed a strange and tiresome, though lucrative operation dominated by a Filipino, who declined to reveal his name.

Labourers worked with axes in sweltering heat to deconstruct what was once several millions of dollars worth of technology.

Most of the aircraft that have been buried there belonged to Nigeria Airways. Others have the markings of ADC Airlines and other local carriers that had funding troubles.

A supervisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “When we buy aircraft like this, we dismantle them, send the re-useable parts to overseas for re-certification and benchmarking (to see if they could be reused as spares on other airplanes), while the metal frames are sold to metal dealers who in turn sell them to local users that melt them down.

“Most of these frames, you are seeing being dismantled, after passing through series of processes, end up at the workshop of some local spoon and pot manufacturers, mostly in Sango Ota area of Ogun State.”

He said that when the serviceable parts had been removed, the metal frame would sell for between N1.2m and N1.5m.

The metal frame, is usually bought by some local dealers who engage labourers to help in dismantling them under the supervision of some aircraft technicians.

The pieces, according to the technician supervising the dismantling, are resold to sub-dealers, who in turn take them to either locally made furnace made by blacksmith or modern technology-built furnace owned by aluminium companies in the country for melting.

Interestingly, dealership market is principally controlled by a Filipino-Nigerian who in turn sells the dismantled aircraft to the sub-dealers who takes them to furnaces.

The Philipinos-Nigerian, who declined to mention his name, said his clients include businessmen from all over the country.

He added that some of the sub-dealers take them to modern furnaces where they would be melt and sold to sandalsmanufacturing companies owned by Chinese, Indian and Lebanese, which were mostly located in Ilasa and Matori in Lagos, and other parts of the country.

These companies, he said used the aluninium to manufacture moulds for sandals.

One of the workers with the Philipinos, who identified himself as Adamu said, a local furnace located behind the Gatan Kowa market, around Abule Egba area of Lagos was a centre where most local spoons and pots manufacture around Sango-Ota area come to buy melted crude aluminium ingots.

Traders also buy the ingots, which are sent to other parts of the country, especially Kano, while some are exported to Mali, Chad and other neigbouring countries.

Meanwhile, the Media Assistant, Chanchangi Airlines, Mr. Adamu Muhammed, said his organisation, in compliance with the current government fleet renewal policy, had decided to sell all its ageing aircraft, while new ones had been ordered. The first batch, he said would be due before March.

He, however, stated that, one of its old aircraft was sold about two years ago to an aluminium company in Kaduna for N500,000.

Mr. Warri Achurefe, an Air Traffic Controller, said while such disused aircraft were sometimes put in museums abroad, old aircraft had been converted to restaurants in France, Italy and South Africa.

The Director, Raztuns Company, Lagos, Mr. Ademigbuji Adetunji, a supplier of aluminium materials, said aircraft metal bodies were taken to aluminium companies in the country who posses the advanced technology furnace used in melting the dismantled aluminium frames into ingots

He said some of the ingots were also used for manufacturing baking pans for bakery owners.

He, however, explained that because of the presence of manganese and other alloys, it was not fit for other uses like window metal frames.

A large proportion of the aluminium frames are sold to smelters at the Gatan Kowa market, which is more known for used clothing.

A dealer, who identified himself as Idris, from Kebbi States, said he had been in the business since 1990. He said he had about three furnaces inside the a very expansive compound where all manners of activities were taking place.

A kilogramme of an aircraft frame, Idris says, sells for about N80, depending on whether it is Russian-made aircraft, which were usually made of pure metals. Frames made from a mixture of aluminium and fibre command a lower price.

Idris explained that after the frames are melted down and recast as ingots, they are sold for N140,000 per tonne.

He stated that sometimes, the dealers went as far as Delta State to purchase unserviceable aircraft for melting and resold.

He said that melting was always done in the night between 7pm and 7am, a period, which would be sufficient for the process to attain completion.

He revealed that the solid molten metals were bought by local pot and spoon manufacturers and some Indians who export them to their country.

Idris said that the amount they purchase the aircraft depend on the type, whether it was DC-10, or 737, 727 or others.

Mallam Abdulkaoje Bello, a dealer who resides at Abule Egba, said he had been in the business for long and he was always making profit from the venture.

Bello said he usually carried the molten metals to Sokoto to sell to local spoon and pot manufacturers.


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