2007 October 28 Sunday
Aging Passenger Aircraft Fleet In US

If it seems like the airplanes you ride in are old that's probably because they are old.

The fleet of big jets operated by nine major domestic airlines has aged steadily since 2002, according to Airline Monitor, an aviation research firm. The average age was 10.6 years at the end of 2002, and it has risen each year, hitting 12.2 years at the end of 2006. Domestic airlines largely stopped ordering new planes after Sept. 11, 2001, shrinking their fleets to adjust to a drop in demand. Travel has rebounded strongly, but airlines are, for the most part, years away from taking delivery on large numbers of new planes. A big reason is that Boeing and Airbus have committed most of their airliner production capacity in coming years to carriers outside the United States.

Indeed, only 43 of the 710 Boeing 787s on order have been identified as going to domestic airlines; 25 to Continental Airlines and 18 to Northwest. And none of the 165 giant Airbus A380s on order are destined for United States carriers. In essence a new generation of jetliners bigger, more comfortable, more fuel efficient is largely bypassing domestic airlines and their customers.

On one hand the newer airplanes are a lot more fuel efficient. Plus, the cost of oil keeps going up. On the other hand, the old airplanes have lower capital costs. I'm surprised that the airlines calculate the older airplanes are cheaper given the increased fuel efficiency of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. If the price of oil keeps going up their decision might become a pretty big mistake. On the other hand, another doubling of oil prices will idle a lot of airplanes.

These older planes are dirtier, noisier, and get delayed more often by mechanical problems. Are you like me and find that flying has become an ordeal? One reason (though not the only one) is old airplanes.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 October 28 02:07 PM  Economics Transportation

Ned said at October 28, 2007 2:37 PM:

I can remember returning to college (on a propeller plane, which shows how dated I am) for a 90 minute flight in which drinks and dinner were served. Now you're lucky to get a bag of pretzels. My wife fot delayed in Detroit yesterday for two and a half hours for "mechanical difficulties." Just par for the course nowadays, I guess.

Irish Savant said at October 29, 2007 3:25 PM:

I travelled to Columbia recently on AA, on 1st Class fare. Couldnt believe how decrepit the planes were, no newspapers available and food was like McDonalds. Whats going on?

Frequent Flyer said at October 29, 2007 7:00 PM:

I work in an airline-related industry and I am a bit surprised about AA myself. They are supposed to be a "premium carrier", but when I flew from Las Vegas to Miami, I was on a plane that was absolutely ancient. It had to be at least 20 years old and it looked it. I have no problem with older aircraft, but these guys really let this thing go. Most of the carriers are barely keeping their heads above water, very few actually make a profit. Southwest is supposed to be so great, but I hate their faux-friendly crews, the poor bastards. I mostly take Continental anyway and I have been pretty happy so far. The planes are clean and the service has been pretty good. But if you travel there are some things you can do to make your life easier.
Take the smaller Bombardier or Embrear jets if you can. Even when they are full, it doesn't feel packed, at least to me. You will get better service because the crew to passenger ratio is better. They are also more comfortable planes. Also, if you can avoid big airports like Atlanta, O'Hare, JFK, LAX, etc... and fly out of mid-size or smaller airports, you will have less delays, lines, etc...I'd rather drive the extra time to Lehigh Valley, PA or Stewart, NY (and better Richmond than any airport in the DC area) than fly out of JFK if I can help it. Everything at those smaller airports is easier, parking, security, etc...But things certainly aren't the way they used to be.

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