With the light metal's percentage share of the aerospace market estimated to grow by 2.4% between 2010 and 2020 – according to Metal Bulletin analysts – and Alcoa announcing expansion of it Kitts Green plant in the UK in order to boost aluminium-lithium production, it's all looking very promising for the green metal as lighter alloys hit the market.
The big market for aluminium, however, is single-aisle aircraft, which, says Aleris' Ingrid Jorg, are not in the market for composites and may never succumb to aluminium's nemesis, unlike their wide-bodied, long-haul counterparts.
Jorg said that 90% of 9,600 aircraft on order from Boeing and Airbus are to be made of metal, not plastic, and that, as the industry develops lighter alloys, demand for aerospace aluminium will remain strong for years to come.
Looking into the future, Constellium's head of aerospace and transport believes that the aircraft of tomorrow will be a mix of aluminium and composite material.
Joining aluminium alloys and composite material together, however, has posed problems, with cracks on the wings of the Airbus A380 attributed to alloy brackets. This has led to the development of the fastener market into big business, with companies like Alcoa claiming that fasteners account for 30% of aerospace sales.
Single-aisle planes continue to score with aluminium. Because they rely upon thinner aluminium skins, the weight benefits of composites are negligible.
Generally speaking, the aluminium industry appears to have nothing to worry about for at least 10 years, industry experts believe.