8th Aug 2018
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How to tell the age of your plane
Is your plane old and dangerous?

A recent scare involving the engine failure of a Boeing 737-700BA on a Southwest flight in the United States led to a couple of members asking us if there’s any reason to be concerned about the age of the planes flying on domestic routes in Australia.

While the aircraft involved in this fatal accident was around 18 years old, the average age of planes in the Southwest fleet are around 11 years old. The planes in the fleet of our national carrier, Qantas, are much younger, at around 7.9 years.

The age of the plane may not be such a big issue when it comes to safety. There are plenty of older planes in operation that are absolutely flightworthy.

Once on board a plane, there are ways to tell if it’s older: tatty seats, inflight entertainment that drops from the ceiling, razor disposal trays and ashtrays in bathrooms or armrests, fraying carpets and yellowing, broken panels are but a few. Others include:

  • flight attendant call buttons showing a female icon wearing a skirt
  • overhead no-smoking signs instead of a ‘turn off electronics’ symbol
  • a stairway in the tail of the plane
  • three engines instead of two or four.

But for those who are worried about flying in an older plane, there is a way to find out the age of the aircraft prior to booking your airfare.

You can usually find out what type of plane you’re booking when looking for airfares. Simply take a note of the model, such as Airbus A380 or Boeing 767, then head to www.planespotters.net and search for that model. The often-updated registry will tell you the age of the plane as well as some other interesting facts about it, such as how many there are in the fleet. If you’re worried about the age of the plane, then find a flight with a younger model.

With an average fleet age of 12.2 years old, US airlines operate some of the oldest planes in the world. But so too do Africa (12.7 years), Eastern Europe (10.2 years), Western Europe (10.6 years) and Latin America (9.2 years).

The youngest fleets are in the Asia-Pacific region (8 years), Middle East (7.2) and China (5.9 years).

So, if you’re flying in Australia, you can breathe easy knowing that you are most likely on a cutting-edge aircraft with the latest in technological, entertainment and safety features.

Do you ever worry about the age of your plane? What’s the oldest plane in which you’ve flown?

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    COMMENTS

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    MICK
    8th Aug 2018
    10:30am
    The short answer is YES. When metals are subjected to stresses they effectively 'age' and components develop fatigue damage. That means they ultimately fail.
    Aircraft go through maintenance check-ups at regular intervals and any impending damage is normally picked up. Of course some things can be missed and there is also negligence (think world maintenance) which does not find problems before planes fall out of the sky.
    In the past few days we saw yet another vintage plane crash. A common occurrence in these aircraft.
    We flew in a 747 a few years ago. It was a pleasant flight but I had real apprehension given the age of this beastie. All ended well luckily.
    Yes....age is important. The old clunkers mostly are sold to the third world, so avoid booking a cheap flight with these carriers.
    Cowboy Jim
    8th Aug 2018
    10:47am
    Good advice Mick. At our age it would be stupid to save a couple of hundred dollars on a cheap flight when the travel insurance is greatly increased for age pensioners.
    MICK
    8th Aug 2018
    2:46pm
    Of course the other side of that argument might be that it's better to go quickly rather than draw out the end of life bit. Maybe I'll get to a stage where the body wants to book the oldest clunker it can find. So far so good though.
    Couldabeen
    8th Aug 2018
    8:02pm
    Mick, your reference to the recent crash of a Junkers is hardly relevant to the discussion and a quick check shows that the safety record for this model is quite good. It was over 70 years old and the cause remains unknown.
    Julian
    8th Aug 2018
    10:54pm
    Metals don't actually age. In the case of aircraft components, the critical factors which influence performance are corrosion and fatigue. The latter becomes an issue when cracks form in components be they dynamic (engine) or static.(frame). Fatigue is related to stress and number of cycles and is exacerbated by defects or damage or even corrosion. Maintenance schedules are designed to prevent fatigue becoming an issue, however, as we have heard over the decades, costs determine and undermine this important factor. One question remains: is the maintenance adequate when cost cutting is paramount?
    Bren
    8th Aug 2018
    11:02am
    The oldest plane I flew on was from Rangoon to Delhi with a stopover in Dacca in 1982 (thus I have not updated the place names). The airline was Bangladesh Biman and the plane was supposedly third hand, originally Aeroflot, then used by the Chinese and finally owned by Bangladesh, which was a newish country at the time. No problems I remember, though we did get put up in a hotel in Dacca overnight (unscheduled) for some reason which escapes me now!!
    Chris B T
    8th Aug 2018
    11:29am
    The pilots Were ShXXing themselves and took off after landing.
    {;-(?)
    Cowboy Jim
    8th Aug 2018
    7:59pm
    Having been to those places I pronounce you a Very Brave Person.
    Alky
    8th Aug 2018
    11:30am
    I tried to book a flight with a younger model, but my wife found out and divorced me!!
    Rosret
    8th Aug 2018
    11:48am
    YES
    Roy R
    8th Aug 2018
    1:52pm
    All aircraft have strict maintenance schedules and procedures. After a certain number of hours flying, even the airframe has to be replaced. This came about after the DH Comet's problems with metal fatigue.
    So, if the maintenance is carried out correctly, age is irrelevant.
    Older, timber framed aircraft are not subject to such fatigue.
    MICK
    8th Aug 2018
    2:44pm
    The Comets were due to square windows. Had they been curved they would not have blown but it was discovered that corners suffer huge stresses and this made the Comet the plane of choice for the obvious.
    You are correct that timber does not suffer fatigue failure.
    Seenitall
    8th Aug 2018
    6:53pm
    You can have problems with almost new aircraft too a good example being the very near catastrophic engine blow up with a Qantas A380 after it left Singapore bound for Australia which was due to an incorrectly drilled oil supply pipe which fractured. On the other hand there are still Douglas DC-3 aircraft flying commercailly around the world. The DC-3 was designed in the 1930s but would now be at the stage where it would need extremely intensive maintenance to keep it safely flying.
    I am an avid watcher of the "Aircrash Investigation" TV series and it would seem that a large proportion of fatal airline crashes are caused by companies which are under financial pressure taking shortcuts with maintenance - often maintenance staff are poorly trained and under extreme time pressure forcing them to make mistakes like omitting to tighten bolts or using the wrong parts because the airline can't afford the downtime waiting for the correct ones.
    I guess the takehome message is if you can't be sure that people are doing the right thing to the plane in the maintenance hanger don't fly on it.
    Couldabeen
    8th Aug 2018
    7:57pm
    Flying within Australia on scheduled services has an exceptionally good safety record and the only dangers that we face are from the BO of the unwashed fellow travellers.
    It's hardly fair to try and demonise the 727/L1011/DC10 as these were and are all fine aircraft with few in scheduled passenger service anywhere in the world. If you find yourself boarding one, count yourself lucky as they are all legends of the air now.
    The chronological ages of airframes are often of little guide to their serviceability as the real testing aspect is the number of duty cyles that it has endured.
    Note that the year 2017 had no fatal crashes involving jet airliners on scheduled services.
    Couldabeen
    8th Aug 2018
    8:06pm
    I'll add that if there is any general area of concern it would be aircraft from the USSR era working in certain African countries. Their apparent higher rate of accidents may be equally attributed to the aircrew as much as the aircraft.
    Roy R
    8th Aug 2018
    8:35pm
    I was taught that the Comet was the reason metal fatigue became such a huge factor in aircraft maintenance.


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