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What Happens to Used Airliners

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Did you ever wonder what happens to used jet airplanes? There are a surprising number of possibilities that can take place with airliners after the company that initially purchased—or, in some cases, leased—the planes is finished flying them. Jets are like cars in some ways. For starters, new ones are expensive and their replacement parts and equipment updates are quite costly as well. So much money is tied up in commercial jets that, both as whole planes and broken down into their component parts, nothing is negligible about the big birds. When it comes to disposing of planes they will no longer be using, air carriers exercise many different options.

Do Air Carriers Resell Their Used Planes?
Lots of factors besides wear-and-tear result in carriers deciding to stop flying certain planes or to go to a different type of jet. For instance, passenger jets come in “wide-body” or “narrow-body” fuselages. Some carriers have decided the changing market calls for them to stop using the wide-body jets, with space for more passengers, and go to shorter routes with fewer passengers, which implies narrow-body jets. Once they decide to change out large portions of their fleets, selling them on the used plane market is the first option. With such big-ticket items, carriers must rely on sales management teams that are top flight. Many wide-body jets end up as charter planes or cargo haulers for international companies.

How Long Are Airplanes Supposed to Last?
The idea of reselling and continuing to use jets that once flew for major airlines raises the question, just how long are planes meant to fly? Considering that the typical auto is past its prime after about 200,000 miles or a dozen years, should we be nervous about the age and mileage of the jet that is lifting us up to 30,000 feet? In this regard, high-flying jets are like light bulbs. The lifespan of a light bulb is determined more by how often you turn it off and on rather than how many hours it burns. So with a jet, the biggest impact on its life expectancy is how many times it has been pressurized at high altitudes. The big passenger carriers are built to endure this kind of use for 25-30 years and most of them are taken out of that duty after about 18 years.

What Happens When Planes Get Scrapped?
You have probably seen those photos of “expired” jets sitting side-by-side out in the desert and perhaps assumed that is where old passenger planes go to die. The reality is a little different. Often there comes a point in the life of a jet where the worth of its part is greater than its value as a flying machine. After an auto accident, the insurance company may decide the worth of a vehicle is less than the parts it would take to fix it, so it is “totaled.” With jets, sometimes the parts that make up the plane are in so much demand that the owners of the plane make a lot more money selling the instruments, engines, interiors and hardware than trying to sell the plane as a whole. Thus, a perfectly air-worthy plane is salvaged.

How Will Airplanes Change in the Near Future?
Most of those big jets that you see parked in the desert are there because they have become obsolete for salvage. The technology, design and materials used to manufacture them have been supplanted by newer methods. Such advances tend to happen in fits and starts. The airline industry may well be on the verge of another generational change in the way it designs planes, resulting in the creation of a new flock of obsolete jetliners. Some prognosticators, noting the need for social distancing in very restricted spaces, have indicated that planes will go to two levels of widely spaced seating. Changes to airplanes are coming, meaning more of the old jets will be for sale.

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