Older Airplanes are more dangerous

What’s Safer: Newer Planes or Older Planes?

Admin Airplanes, Flex Air News

While newer planes look sharper, many people also consider them safer. The question remains: are newer planes safer?

According to Bruce Landsberg, the former president of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute, “It depends.” Landsberg said that the answers are not that clear.

Landsberg talked about matters that a plane’s safety depends on. “It’s ultimately about maintenance. Sometimes it’s a matter of luck, a matter of design, or a matter of how the plane is used or abused,” Landsberg said. Consistently maintaining a plane is a major component in the plane’s safety, according to Landsberg. In addition, Landsberg added that it helps that the requirements have become stricter.

“The FAA and airlines have become a whole lot more sensitive toward aging aircraft,” Landsberg said. Aircraft are required to pass an inspection for every 100 hours of flight time.

Boeing and Airbus have built their passenger airplanes to have much more endurance than an automobile. In general, it is not unusual to see planes between 20 to 30 years old being used.

“The core of a plane is very expensive, and they are overbuilt,” Landsberg said. “They are extremely durable. They have to be.”

Part of the reason planes are “overbuilt” is due to their need to operate in high-stress environments. The body of the aircraft is often pressurized and depressurized as it goes through various altitudes and is exposed to a high variation of temperature ranges.

With the high cost of commercial airplanes—planes can range from $80 to $400 million, prices varying on the type and who makes it—it is not uncommon for older planes to be remodeled with new parts.

Landsberg explained how it is decided to retire an airplane. “It all comes down to the economics,” Landsberg said. “At some point, there will be something so expensive to fix, the airline will say it isn’t worth it and turn the thing into scrap aluminum.”

Another factor in deciding to retire a plane is “fuel burn,” similar to gas mileage in the world or cars. When a plane gets to a certain age, replacing parts no longer makes sense because it is not efficient enough. According to Landsberg, when fuel prices are higher, airlines will sometimes take planes that use too much fuel out of the equation.

An advantage of newer planes is that they are quieter than older planes, which is something many customers prefer.

Airfleets.new—a website that keeps track of the typical age of aircraft for major airlines—shows that the age of airlines vary. Each airline has a different plan for replacing planes. Delta Airlines currently has the oldest fleet, with plane ages averaging at 17 years. United Airlines and Air Canada have planes averaging 14.2 and 14.1 years of age (respectively).

According to Landsberg, planes such as the Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 have shorter lifespans due to flying many domestic routes each day. “Something going up and down more frequently will wear out more quickly than something that’s used to fly over the Atlantic,” Landsberg explained.

Landsberg stressed that keeping the aircraft maintained is much more important than the age of the plane in regard to safety. Landsberg said, “One of the standard jokes in the aviation business is a customer asking if the airplane is safe, and the pilot saying, ‘How do you think it got this old?”