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May 19, 2019

Old Airplanes vs New Airplanes

We live in the age of technological innovation. New models of products we use keep coming almost every year. Mobile phones, laptops, automobiles and home appliances are at the top of this list. Although the planes cannot enter the top of the list yet, they continue to keep us alive in terms of technological regeneration.

There is a general prejudice among the people. The former is unsafe, inefficient or, at best, outdated. When the planes are in question, the doubts increase. Those which are new, or rather new, are considered safer.

In fact, it is not possible to talk about the old or new aircraft. Technically, we can only judge by well-maintained or not-maintained (neglected) aircraft. Although an aircraft is new, its safety can be compromised unless its maintenance is properly performed. On the contrary, a very old aircraft which its maintenance carried out very regularly, can continue highly safe flights.

Considering the subject in another way, being old in aviation means being useful. In other words, the expected benefit from the aircraft can still be taken, so it can continue its flights. Japanese culture is said to show more respect for the old. The old one could not still exist if it were not good, but it is not possible to make such a decision for the new. In other words, old is more appreciated because it had proved itself.

Recent events and developments in aviation also confirm this. The Airbus A380, which is believed to create huge changes in the industry and entered the market with great success, was retired in a very short time for itself like 10 years. Serving only 10 years for an airplane of this size, is to be scrapped without completing its half-life. Another example was the Boeing 737 MAX. In a period of 6 months, two new airplanes caused a fatal accident due to the same problem. Although both models enter the market with the promise of great innovations, they couldn’t deliver what is expected from them. Such innovations are not the preferred innovations.

On the other hand, there are aircraft such as the Airbus A300B4, Boeing 757 & 747 and MD-80 that are actively flying in many countries of the world even if they are over 25 years old. Although they are not very efficient in terms of fuel consumption, they continue their services without any problems due to the advantage of cheap oil prices. They are still indispensable because of the high cost of replacing them with new ones. The VC-25A aircraft (a modified version of the Boeing 747) which is the official presidential aircraft of the United States, made its first flight in 1987 and entered service in 1990. As of today, it is 32 years old and it is planned to continue its flights in such a critical service until 2024 (until 37 years of age). Boeing 747-8, which is the successor of such a successful aircraft, was not preferred by the airlines and shared almost the same fate as the Airbus A380. Another example that is still in use despite his advanced age is Antonov An-225 Mriya, who is well known to aviation enthusiasts. Designed in 1985 and carrying out its first flight in 1988, this 30+ years old giant aircraft continues to be used in private cargo transportation thanks to its unrivaled capacity.

As a result, in aviation there is no concept as old and new aircraft. There are well-maintained and neglected or efficient and inefficient aircraft. When we consider low margin profits in air transportation, we can understand how sensitive these issues are. No matter how new a plane that does not meet the commercial expectations, it is not preferred, and it continues to be flown, no matter how old an aircraft that provides commercial satisfaction.