Deserts are a good place to go to for old planes to die, or at least be salvaged for scrap.

The international airport at Fujairah had been built to handle over two million passengers a year, but neighboring Dubai siphoned off most of the traffic. Instead, its tarmacs have become a place of landings and no takeoffs, a home for junk aircraft, an airplane boneyard.

Over two dozen planes have been dumped there over the years, many after they failed safety standards and couldn’t fly out or when their owners went bankrupt. Quite are few are from the former Soviet republics, including Antonov 12 and 26 aircraft that used to ply the Emirates-Afghanistan route. Some were drawn there because of the cheap parking fees and just stayed. (It’s reportedly cheaper to park a plane at Fujairah for a week than a car at the Dubai Airport)

Now, a British company is stepping in to make the Fujairah International Airport a different kind of hub: an international center for recycling old planes. In the first venture of its kind in the Middle East, Falcon Aircraft Recycling is expected to start picking through the old aircraft, dismantling them, salvaging avionics, engine parts, aluminum and other metals, and even seatbelts and leather.

“We made a strategic decision to explore the aircraft-recycling market and were very pleased to enter into an agreement with Falcon Aircraft Recycling, who meet and in certain areas exceed our quality, environmental and safety requirements,” Charles Hajdu, the airport’s strategy and business development manager, told The Media Line.  

Mountainous Fujairah is one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As the only one facing the Gulf of Oman, it failed to become a regional transportation hub. Last year, only 13,107 people passed through its doors as its passenger and cargo facility fell to disuse.

Deserts, such as those in the southwestern US, are good locations for airplane bone yards because the dry conditions reduce corrosion. At Fujairah, aircraft owners were encouraged to park their planes there with cheap fees and cargo operations.

“These aircraft have to be parked somewhere in the region and so long as the business is managed carefully it might as well be Fujairah,” Hajdu said.

The plan is for Falcon to set up a recycling facility and bring other aircraft here, too, when they reach the end of their service life. This will boost income for the airport via landing, handling and parking fees.

“The market for recycling aircraft and their components is a growing one with more business expected to be captured at Fujairah International Airport because of its strategic location in the Middle East,” said Biju Sudhakaran, executive director of Falcon.

Ian French, the chief operations officer at Falcon, said their recycling facility would be safe and efficient and meet international standards “while protecting the environment and at the same time providing a cost effective solution for airline owners to dispose of their aging and redundant aircraft.”

“Recycling engines and other aircraft components safely in a highly regulated and technical market is what we are equipped and set up to do. It has been our ambition to find a suitable location in the Middle East for time and Fujairah provides the perfect location with space, skilled staff and facilities such as workshops and storage facilities within the airport as well as smelters, a sea port and good road access to the rest of the UAE,” French said.

Khaled Almazroui, general manager of Fujairah Airport said the recycling facilities were just the first of aviation-related businesses officials hope to establish at the airport.

“These projects will bring more job opportunities for UAE nationals as well as expatriates,” Almazroui said.

Almazroui added: “We are committed to supporting the environmentally friendly recycling of aircraft as this is one of the sectors of the market that is under-served in the region. We are very happy to be the first airport in the region to set up professional and ISO accredited recycling organization as part of the development plans for Fujairah International airport.”

In an interview with Arabian Aerospace TV, Almazroui said that 22% of the aircraft that would need to be replaced by 2028 would come from the Middle East.

Hajdu said they did not see the airport as a home for abandoned aircraft, but merely a venue to manage their end of lifecycle.

“If Fujairah is to be a final destination, it should at least be to a better world,” Hajdu said.

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