You may be aware that there are many old airplanes still flying in today’s skies. Are you aware of how the lifespan of an airplane is determined? The subject is an interesting one, and the answer is not as simple as you may have thought.
Pressurization Cycles Determine Aircraft Age
For an airplane, it’s not the absolute number of years that contributes to its age. Instead, the airline industry uses a concept known as “pressurization cycles” to keep tabs on the effective lifespan of aircraft. The term refers to the amount of time that the aircraft is kept under pressure from flight. The pressure of flight stresses the fuselage and wings. Over time this stress effects the airplane’s structure which makes flight increasingly more dangerous.
- The lifespan of aircraft is determined by the manufacturer.
- The age is calculated based on pressurization cycles. As a rule of thumb, each cycle involves “takeoff/landing.”
- Fuselage and wings suffer stress from pressurization, including on “short hauls.”
- Airlines follow manufacturer’s directions for “trouble free” maintenance.
- Nondestructive evaluations (NDE) are used during the life of the airline to inspect for damage.
Airlines have to make a decision on how long their aircraft is used based on balancing the needs for profitability and public safety. There are no hard and fast “rules” concerning the exact age or number of cycles when a company would retire an airplane. If repairs came due that were prohibitive in cost, that would hasten the decision to retire the aircraft.
Economic Factors Decide on Airplane Life
Airplanes often are upgraded based on economic reasons and the changing tastes of consumers. There are planes that are capable of flying for decades, but it’s doubtful that commercial airline passengers would be willing to pay top dollar to fly them, especially with more modern options being available. Airplane manufacturing makes new models that offer more features and higher chances of profitability in the hopes of convincing airlines to upgrade their fleets. Airlines with the newest planes tend to have more customers flying at any given time because of the increased comfort.
Even though it’s not completely accurate, the most basic explanation of determining aircraft’s lifespan is this: the number of takeoffs and landings ultimately decide how long an airplane lasts. The more an aircraft is used, the more pressure the structure endures and the closer the craft gets to reaching its maximum service. The good news is that a plane that has had a lot of takeoffs and landings, it’s assumed, will have earned a hefty profit over the course of its lifetime.