Is It Safe To Fly In Old Aircraft?
Yes, it is safe to fly in an older aircraft due to stringent maintenance and inspection standards mandated by the FAA. These standards are a leading factor on why the aviation industry is consistently the safest form of transportation.
The aviation industry has traditionally been comprised of both old and new aircraft. Airlines for example may try to differentiate themselves by having the newest and latest aircraft. Where as a a low cost carrier may buy older aircraft to make it less expensive on the consumer. Wouldn’t this mean the budget airlines is sacrificing safety? The answer is no, but how is this so? Cars often become outdated after a few years, and don’t experience the same amount of stress as aircraft. How would older airplanes be any safer? In this article we will answer that very question.
Why should I not be worried to fly on an older aircraft.
Aviation is heavily regulated and there are rules for everything. Safety and concern for the well-being of aviators, passengers, and those on the ground are at the forefront of the FAA’s mind. The FAA dictates inspection and maintenance standards for each type of aircraft, which owners and operators must abide by or face serious repercussions. They do discriminate standards based on age, so regardless of how old a plane is, it must abide by the same standards applied to the newer aircraft.
On commercial flights, before each flight, you may notice the pilot walking around the aircraft checking it out. They are conducting a pre-flight inspection to make sure the plane is in good order. If you are on a general aviation aircraft, they may even have you help them. If an issue with the aircraft has been found, maintenance will be notified and will attempt to fix said issue. A pilot will never willingly take an aircraft that they have deemed unsafe for flight. This is how to be a pilot 101.
Maintenance is conducted regularly on an aircraft for commercial airlines. It is in their best interest to do so and it is also required by the FAA. They conduct these routine maintenance actions based on calendar days or flying hours of the aircraft itself. Most of the time it is just a more thorough inspection for any signs of wear and tear. They also have more than one set of eyes on any fixes which help prevent any mistakes.
How old is the typical aircraft?
According to Statista.com the average age of a traditional full-cost carrier is above 10 years and the newer low-cost carriers are below 10 years. For the military, the average age of its aircraft is 28 years according to Heritage Foundation. For general aviation that average age is even higher at 50 years! This is according to Mark Laughridge who is a part of the FAA’s FAAST Safety team.
This is a testament to not only the regular maintenance and inspections, but also to the manufacturers and designers for the aircraft. Aircraft are built to last even with repetitive use. For example, there are airlines that still use the DC-9, which is a commercial jet that is nearing 60 years of age. It is proof that if you properly take care of your equipment, it will take care of you.
Who maintains the aircraft?
The FAA has rules for levels of maintenance and inspection based on your aircraft type and the operations of the aircraft. General aviation for the most part falls under the part 91 category and airlines fall under the part 121 and 135. Part 121 and 135 requires the airlines to formulate a maintenance program, where as the part 91 mandates an inspection program. What is the difference? Airlines also must have an inspection program included in their maintenance program, meaning they are ultimately responsible for making sure the aircraft is safe to fly. General aviation is different in the sense that they are responsible for getting their aircraft checked out by someone who is certified to inspect and fix any issues.
Airlines are more stringent and have a way better safety record because of it in addition to the higher level of training. For this reason, they have dedicated maintenance teams that work for their airlines. General aviation for the most part requires the owner or operator to find someone who can conduct the necessary work on their aircraft.
Is it unsafe to buy an old aircraft?
No, it is not unsafe to buy an older or used aircraft. It is often a great way to save money, granted prospective owners should do complete checks of the potential aircraft and back themselves up by doing a diligent review of the aircraft forms and history. Buying an aircraft is a serious investment and the last thing you want is to buy an older plane hoping to save some money and realize you will have to pay way more due to necessary maintenance fixes.
This would be a good option for those who do not fly a ton. New aircraft are way more expensive if you are not getting the proper use out of them. The main thing is to make sure you do your homework and decide based on your current and future needs and wants.
Next time you board an aircraft that is older than you, do not immediately think you are about to die. Realize how much time, money, and effort goes into each and every one of these aircraft to keep them fly-worthy. Just sit back and enjoy the view!