The Truth about Aircraft Age and Safety

May 19, 2014 | Categories: Aviation Safety

                Aircraft age is often a subject that comes up when we work with clients on finding the right private aviation solution to fit their needs.  Aircraft age is definitely a concern from an aircraft valuation standpoint, but the idea that it is a concern from a safety standpoint is only partially true.  As you search through the options of private aircraft available for charter, it’s important that one be able to separate fact from fiction when someone is trying to sell you on a newer aircraft.  A newer aircraft may indeed be what you want or need, but you shouldn’t assume that safety is directly tied to the age of the aircraft. 

                What constitutes an “older” aircraft?  Generally charter brokers and operators will attempt to create a market distinction for themselves that defines the aircraft that they are trying to sell charter on as “new.”  A very common number is about 10 years, although as we’ve see the number of aircraft available for charter that are in excess of 10 years old increase, we’ve also seen the definition slip from “10 years old or newer” to “2000 or newer” aircraft.    

                With respect to safety of flight there are only a few things that will actually affect safety of flight.  It’s important to note that aircraft are not the same as automobiles or other types of capital equipment with respect to maintenance.   Due to the critical nature of the systems aboard an aircraft, they are all subject to a continuing maintenance inspection program.  Depending on the complexity of the aircraft and the manufacturer’s design, the period between major inspections can vary.  For light general aviation aircraft, they must be inspected every 100 hours or annually, whichever comes first.  Most business aviation aircraft, however, have a continuing maintenance program wherein certain components of the aircraft are inspected at regular intervals, some more frequently than others.  The inspection cycle is based on a couple different factors but is usually driven by system criticality and redundancy as well as actual operational experience and a statistical analysis of such factors as Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) and other statistical metrics.  The end goal is to catch systems that could be prone to critical failures before they actually fail.  For instance, on the Hawker 400XP, the aircraft is inspected on a 200 hour interval.  Not every system is inspected every 200 hours, but every system is evaluated through the entire inspection cycle, which is typically broken down into A, B, C and D inspections.  For Moser aviation, that means each aircraft is completely inspected about every two years.

                One thing that is important about evaluating the age of an aircraft is whether or not it has been updated.  For instance, a 2000 model aircraft that has never been updated with state of the art avionics, is not the same as a 2000 model aircraft that has been recently updated.  Additionally, aircraft manufacturers occasionally issue service bulletins, to modify the aircraft to address problems that have been encountered across the fleet.  Aircraft that are operated for charter are subject to more restrictive controls on maintenance than those that aren’t and are often required to comply with such service bulletins.  Aircraft age is often as much about how many hours the aircraft has as it is about the age of the airplane.  A 2004 model aircraft with 1000 hours is “newer” in many respects than a 2011 model with 3000 hours. 

                The bottom line is age can be a deceiving metric when applied to aircraft.  Older does not necessarily mean less safe, less comfortable, or less modern.  Don’t let someone sell you a bill of goods about how “new” their aircraft are when you are searching for the right private aviation solution to meet your private travel needs.  Safe Flying!