Old Planes a reason to worry?

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  • MartinJ

    I recently flew LOT Polish and was very impressed with their business class service. However, this 737 had rectangular windows and ashtrays (welded shut, of course). This made me wonder how old the plane was, and when I’d found out just how old it was (27 years) I started to wonder if I should be worried. What do you think? Are old planes something to worry about?


    Absolutely not! I’ll happily board a 27yr old 737 instead of a MAX.

    What matters is whether these planes have been maintained well. I’ve no qualms flying Lufthansa A340s and i would happily hop onto a BA 747 if they were still operating.
    Delta operates some very old planes and we don’t hear of them falling from the skies on a daily basis. Even Mahan Air of Iran with their old A340s operate without issues (that we know of).

    To be honest i worry more about some newer aircraft models than the oldies.


    You were lucky, it’s well known that airliners explode when they are 28 years old 😉

    On a serious note, I used to part own an aircraft that was over 30 years old and so long as one follows the maintenance regime, it’s fine.

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    OK I will bite –

    Major aircraft manufacturers establish a recommended life span for their products. This is normally stated in flight hours, landing and calendar age, such as 50,000 hours, 12,500 landings, 25 years, but these are not mandatory and they can’t require the aircraft to be retired at those points. However these recommended life spans are established for safety reasons and are normally observed by major operators and should not be lightly dismissed. (Due to the current shortage of aircraft several major airlines have needed to hang -on to there aircraft often several years longer than would normally be the case.

    The cost of maintaining ageing aircraft escalates alarming as they age and to a degree it is this that presents the major risk when these aircraft are operated by low cost start-ups or 3rd level leasing companies.
    Engines, interiors and avionics can all (will need to) be replaced and/or upgraded on a well maintained ageing aircraft.
    The two main enemies of old airplanes as the airframe ages are corrosion and structural cracking caused by repetitive stress. Either of these, if unaddressed over time, has the potential to cause a major catastrophe.
    The older the airframe the greater the risk unless this very costly area has been properly addressed thus on many old air frames it has not addressed properly.

    It is very much up to the individual to calculate what are the extent of any ‘risks’ though the size and reputation of the operator is a decent indicator. Thus Lufthansa is likely be a better bet than a low fare start-up with a few 25+ year old leased aircraft that had been previously operated by several other low end operators.

    The risk of catastrophic structural failure of older poorly maintained aircraft still exists but as airframe design, materials and components have improved is less likely than 50 years ago. However there have been been numerous major catastrophes more recently involving MD83 B747s B737s and most recently an A320 in 2016 although the primary cause was a pilot smoking in the cockpit.

    I would be reasonably happy traveling in a 30 year old aircraft owned or operated from new by a major respected ‘top-twenty airline but would defiantly think twice about travelling with a low cost ‘start-up operating old aircraft with chequered pasts.

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    I would probably prefer to fly on a plane 5 to 10 years old but i would consider the airlines history and maintenance more (if it was one i was not aware of).

    Whilst i do often mention some of Cathay’s planes being a little old, i would not be concerned as i know they have good maintenance (nonetheless, i would choose the A350 as first choice and luckily is my flight back from Bangkok tomorrow).

    Equally for nostalgia, i would probably jump on a 747 on Korean Air and wish BA still had. When in the US, I also quite liked the 757 or 767 for domestic flights and safety did not cross my mind.

    However i would be hesitant of the 737 MAX and have so far avoided (fairly easy being in HK and also when usually only fly BA in Europe). I think if I was in the US, I would probably seek other planes.

    For me as no mechanical expert, i suspect a lot is personal preference / perception rather than true logic! I also feel pilot error may be more significant (however i cannot support this with facts but is my view).


    As long as the aircraft is maintained correctly and goes through the relevant checks, there is very little chance of a catastrophic incident. I have flown on the 737 3/4/500 series as a crew and very old 777s, and the only diversions were passenger-related.

    As others have mentioned, I would avoid the max, although I have flown on it with LOT Polish Airlines in the past.

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    One little point: Windows on airplanes haven’t been rectangular since the Comet. The oldest 737 variant LOT flies are the -800, which has a long track record with airlines all over the world. I would have no problem boarding a 737-800 any day of the week, as long as the airline is one with a good reputation.


    Just as important as the reputation of the airline is the reputation of the regulatory body overseeing the airline.

    From a safety perspective I would have zero issue flying older aircraft in most parts of the world.

    The only reason I would sometimes ‘worry’ about flying a certain airline in Europe or such is due to the operational resilience of their fleet. If an airline only relies on a few aircraft that are older this increases the likelihood of delays and cancellations. Anyone remember the period of MAXJET/SILVERJET/EOS? One of the major reasons these airlines didn’t really ‘take off’ per se was they became known for horrendous operational reliability. They operated just a few older 767/757’s which were worked to the maximum with no slack. If one jet had a mechanical issue and had to be taken out of service for a couple days it resulted in chaos.

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    Good points – I’d add OpenSkies to your list, with the mitigation that they could rebook onto BA in the event of trouble.

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    Your thread which started with those LOT 737s reminded me of LOT when I visited management in Warsaw at that time.

    The Polish carrier virtually grounded its Soviet fleet overnight to replace them with brand new Boeings.

    I can remember landing at WAW (my flight was with one of its new 737s) and I saw a line of grounded IL-62s which, at that time, were fairly new.

    I don’t know what happened to those IL-62s but they never again flew for LOT.

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