Halon Recycling Essential For Maintenance Of Older Aircraft

non-halon-based fire-suppression systems
Until aircraft can be retrofitted with newer, non-halon-based fire-suppression systems, ARSA argues that MROs need to take care to recycle fire protection articles properly.
Credit: Yasin Fedakar/Shutterstock

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The purpose of preventive maintenance is to extend the life of an article between repairs and make restoration activities predictable and cost-effective. The purpose of making repairs is to recycle an article as many times as possible.

The aviation maintenance industry is being called upon to extend the recycling concept to daily activities. Since the most prevalent expenditure of resources is overhead costs, such as energy, resources are often focused on preventive activities that will provide the longest return on investment. Smart lighting and security systems are becoming ubiquitous, but companies are also budgeting for the retrofit of heating, cooling and water delivery systems.

One of the unfortunate remnants of old technology are aircraft fire-suppression systems that continue to depend upon halon to operate. Production of the substance has been banned worldwide for many years, so the continued safe operation of older aircraft depends upon recycled halon. The substance is getting harder and harder to find and is more and more expensive. One reason that the supply is diminishing faster than anticipated is the lack of care after the aviation maintenance process.

Until an aircraft can be retrofitted or retired, the handling of fire protection articles after removal must become an investment, or the cost will continue to rise, and the supply of halon will continue to fall. While this supply issue may increase efforts to retrofit by some operators on some aircraft, it will not solve the issue for older, workhorse aircraft that perform humanitarian and public missions and for which there are no modern replacements.

This unfortunate issue was brought to the association’s attention during my tenure on the Halon Replacement Aviation Rulemaking Committee in 2014. It was reintroduced by the Halon Recycling Corp. in its Guidance for Reducing Emissions and Contamination of Halon 1301 in Civil Aviation. According to the guide, “[M]ost halon emissions from commercial aviation occur during the servicing . . . [where] . . . Halon 1301 is being contaminated with other chemical agents due to poor practices, resulting in significant losses. . . .” It seems that ensuring the proper method for handling installed equipment and that destined for recycling is an investment worth making.

The aspects of servicing discussed in the guide have less to do with aviation safety—though contamination risk demands attention—than with education and time. Most of the practices suggested take place after units are removed from the aircraft. The guide helps businesses determine where gaps may exist in a current recycling program and provides common sense solutions and reminders to take steps to reduce contamination and loss.

The guide cites a United Nations Environmental Program report that anticipated that aviation uses of halon would be needed for at least 40 additional years, while supply is problematic. Recycling efforts in this arena can produce viable results until retrofitting becomes viable.

Sarah MacLeod is managing member of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein, PLC, and a founder and executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association. She has advocated for individuals and companies on international aviation safety law, policy and compliance issues for more than 30 years.