How Magnesium Alloys are Making Planes LighterGiven that they’re incredibly lightweight, it makes sense to use magnesium alloys for weight reduction in airplane construction. But magnesium also has a reputation for being highly flammable, and as such has been expressly forbidden for use in airplane interiors in the past. 

Marisa Garcia of Runway Girl Network spoke to Tim Marker of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) William J. Hughes Technical Center at the start of 2014 about the use of magnesium alloys in airplane seating. Marker referenced official documents regarding airplane safety that state that “magnesium alloys shall not be used” in plane seats due to dangers surrounding the metal’s flammability. However, Garcia also notes that the metal is one-third lighter than its counterpart, aluminum, which is more commonly used in the production of airplane seats.

Furthermore, magnesium and magnesium alloys also claim advantages over aluminum in terms of stiffness and density; they feature excellent ductility as well. That makes the metal a prime candidate in terms of crash testing, Garcia points out. Indeed, the advantages of using magnesium outweigh the disadvantages to such an extent that Magnesium Elektron invested roughly a decade into working with aircraft manufacturers, seat manufacturers and regulatory bodies across the world to gain acceptance for the metal as a construction material for interior airplane components.

Specifically, Magnesium Elektron wanted to see changes to provisions of the SAE standard AS8049 to allow magnesium to be used in commercial airplanes with 20 or more seats. In June 2013, the company saw indications that it had reached its goal: a press release from Magnesium Elektron quotes an announcement from the FAA as stating, “[w]ith the results of the Magnesium Full Scale Testing and the progress demonstrated in the development of the lab scale test method the FAA would now allow magnesium in aircraft seats providing the requirements and conditions as set out in the Special Conditions are satisfied.” The FAA, as well as the European Aviation Safety Agency and the aircraft industry overall, are still working to finalize a framework for the safety of commercial aircraft applications.

In the meantime, Magnesium Elektron announced this spring that Zim Flugsitz, a German manufacturer of seating for the aerospace industry, has begun using Elektron’s proprietary Elektron® 43 alloy in major structural components of aviation seating. According to the press release, the first magnesium alloy aviation seats constructed by Zim Flugsitz are set to be put in service this year on a low-volume, non-comnmercial basis.

The European technical sales manager of wrought products for Magnesium Elektron commented, “[a]lthough it is still a little early to expect a breakthrough into high-volume applications, this project is an important step and will demonstrate the benefits that Elektron magnesium alloys can bring to future lightweighting strategies for commercial aircraft designers and operators.”

Magnesium Elektron is not the only company singing the praises of magnesium alloys in the production of aviation seating. Keiper Recaro Group has also argued for the benefits of using magnesium in airplane seats.

To be sure, magnesium and magnesium alloys are light enough that their use will garner significant advantages in weight reduction for the aerospace industry if the metal gains widespread traction as an interior construction material. It will be interesting for magnesium investors to watch the aviation space, and to keep an eye on whether the industry can seed greater demand for the metal.

 

Securities Disclosure: I, Teresa Matich, hold no investment interest in any companies mentioned. 

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