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How Long Can A Plane Actually Last?  
User currently offlineSampa737 From Brazil, joined May 2005, 637 posts, RR: 1
Posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 7351 times:

With stories of metal fatigue and other problems, just how long can a plane last with continual commercial use? I ask with reference to another post regarding the DC-8s of UPS but thought it better to begin a new topic.

NWAs DC-9s have been around forever. How long could FedEx use their MD-11s, DC-10s and 727s?

31 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
 
User currently offlineNWADC9 From United States of America, joined May 2004, 4897 posts, RR: 9
Reply 1, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 7335 times:

As long as it's maintained to pristine condition, until it crashes.

Doesn't EAA still have their Trimotor flying around?



Flying an aeroplane with only a single propeller to keep you in the air. Can you imagine that? -Capt. Picard
User currently offlineJamincan From Canada, joined Aug 2006, 775 posts, RR: 0
Reply 2, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 7336 times:

AFAIK, DC-3s are still being used in the Arctic, but I'm not certain how old they actually are.

User currently offlineKappel From Suriname, joined Jul 2005, 3533 posts, RR: 17
Reply 3, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 7312 times:

It depends on how much the airline is willing to spend on maintenance. An aircraft can technically fly for a very long time, like the DC9's mentioned and of course the DC3, although the DC3 does not have a pressurized cabin.

Usually, after about 25 years it is no longer economically viable to operate an aircraft, due to MX costs and most likely a replacement aircraft that has been developed that uses less fuel.

There are exceptions of course. NW has operated the DC9 for a long time, because the extra maintenance and fuel costs were offset against the fact that they are owned and paid for. However, I believe they have now reached a point that they need to be replaces (thanks to current fuel costs). Thus they are speeding up phasing them out.



L1011,733,734,73G,738,743,744,752,763,772,77W,DC855,DC863,DC930,DC950,MD11,MD88,306,319,320,321,343,346,ARJ85,CR7,E195
User currently offlineDALMD88 From United States of America, joined Jul 2000, 2554 posts, RR: 14
Reply 4, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 5 hours ago) and read 7232 times:

It all comes down to how much money do you want to throw at it. If you can find the parts or better yet get approval to make the parts any airplane can fly forever. Of course after a point it might become a George Washington Axe. We had to replace the handle and the blade but it is the same axe George used to chop down the cherry tree.

User currently offlineYZFOO7F From Canada, joined May 2005, 158 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 5 hours ago) and read 7222 times:

Buffalo Airways of Hay River, Northwest Territories in Canada still operates many old DC-3s and C-46s.


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Photo © Karl-Heinz Morawietz


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Photo © Sibille Regis



The respective years of manufacture for these two birds are 1942 for the DC-3 and 1945 for the C-46.



Promise me you'll always leave the ground
User currently offlineN867BX From United States of America, joined Nov 2004, 339 posts, RR: 0
Reply 6, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 5 hours ago) and read 7161 times:

This is sort of like asking how many licks it takes to reach the center of a tootsie pop. The world may never know.

User currently offlineBmacleod From Canada, joined Aug 2001, 2277 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 4 hours ago) and read 6970 times:

Depends on good maintenance and preservation (AC has a Lockheed 14 for hertigae purposes).

NWA has managed to hold on to their DC-9s for over 40+ years mainly due to extensive maintenance.

In Africa, 707s are still flying though the safety of these dinosaurs is highly questioned.

UPS still operates DC-8s though these have been re-engined with more efficient engines...



The engine is the heart of an airplane, but the pilot is its soul.
User currently offlineManfredj From United States of America, joined Mar 2007, 1132 posts, RR: 0
Reply 8, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 3 hours ago) and read 6869 times:

Weren't these old birds built with heavier materials thus increasing their useful life? I would speculate that the newer the airplane, the more composites and what not are used. Doesn't carbon fibre break down over time? (naturally)

I think the 737, MD-90 Etc are the last of the older gen building style and therefore have a longer life than its competition.



757: The last of the best
User currently offlineVV701 From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2005, 7532 posts, RR: 17
Reply 9, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 2 hours ago) and read 6699 times:



Quoting Kappel (Reply 3):
An aircraft can technically fly for a very long time, like the DC9's mentioned and of course the DC3, although the DC3 does not have a pressurized cabin.

I believe that "the DC-3 does not have a pressurized cabin" is the key phrase. I do not think that national aviation authorities would allow the DC-3 to fly in their countries today if it had a pressurised cabin. I believe the dangers of metal fatigue with a pressurised aircraft are likely to limit its likely life to between 25 and 30 years depending on the cycles it has completed


User currently offlinePrebennorholm From Denmark, joined Mar 2000, 6451 posts, RR: 54
Reply 10, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 1 hour ago) and read 6592 times:



Quoting Sampa737 (Thread starter):

With stories of metal fatigue and other problems, just how long can a plane last with continual commercial use? I ask with reference to another post regarding the DC-8s of UPS

Technically any plane can last forever. You just exchange all parts which fail due to wear, corrosion, fatigue or whatever reason.

It's a question about economics, comfort and noise.

A lot of planes have "died" due to noise, not least because the EU ruled against converting old fuel guzzlers with hush-kits making them barely legal noise wise and even more fuel guzzling.

It makes little sense to spend a lot of money on maintenance of a fuel guzzler, especially if you cannot fly it to a lot of places due to noise regulation.

That doesn't harm the DC-8-7x which is the only really successful re-engined old jet airliner with modern, fairly fuel efficient and noise compliant engines.

B727 also had some success with the 727-100 converted with 3 x RR Tay, and the the 727-200 converted with 2 x JT8D-2xx plus a hush-kitted center engine. I think that ends the story of successful re-engining.

With the very high number of 737-200s produced it may puzzle me that nobody ever attempted to put a low powered JT8D-2xx under their wings. Maybe it just proved wiser economy wise to sell them to less noise sensitive places on this planet and hush-kit or scrap the rest. Or maybe such a conversion called for extensive wing stucture modifications.



Always keep your number of landings equal to your number of take-offs, Preben Norholm
User currently offlineMMEPHX From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 11, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days ago) and read 6350 times:

many factors as mentioned:

1) How many pressurization cycles has the frame endured.
2) How much time/money do you want to spend on maintenance
3) How much are you prepared to spend on fuel
4) How can you support obselete technology.
5) How well built was the frame in the first place

NW DC9's are an anomaly unlikely to be repeated in aviation. Started with a very solid, well built frame, (some may argue over engineered) NW was prepared to invest in updating/maintaining them (remember they did look in the early 90's at replacing them) and they have the staff that knows how to maintain them. The aircraft is relatively simple compared to todays current generation of computer driven aircraft.

Like most things today, aircraft seem to be designed with much more of definitive life span in mind, so that once it reaches the milestone, while it may be technical feasible to maintain or upgrade the frame, the financials make it difficult to justify.


User currently offlineDeC From Greece, joined Aug 2005, 616 posts, RR: 1
Reply 12, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days ago) and read 6156 times:

"How Long Can A Plane Actually Last? "

As long as you maintain it.



DEC
User currently offlineRampart From United States of America, joined Aug 2005, 3138 posts, RR: 6
Reply 13, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days ago) and read 6003 times:



Quoting Prebennorholm (Reply 10):
That doesn't harm the DC-8-7x which is the only really successful re-engined old jet airliner with modern, fairly fuel efficient and noise compliant engines.

Weren't KC-135s re-engined in the same way? (IIRC, 707s were tested in the same way, but ended up not commercially available)

-Rampart


User currently offlineJetjeanes From United States of America, joined Oct 2004, 1431 posts, RR: 1
Reply 14, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 2 days ago) and read 5978 times:

In theory forever. A felow told me they can replace everything but the planes shadow if they want to. Im sure there are older planes than the dc-3 but there has to be a point where cost
i would think would be worth it



i can see for 80 miles
User currently offlineGeorgeJetson From Bulgaria, joined Jun 2007, 169 posts, RR: 0
Reply 15, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 23 hours ago) and read 5495 times:

Perhaps the Super DC-8s that UPS currently flies are what the DC-9s are to Northwest! Douglas (and McDonnell Douglas) built some awesome aircraft that were very durable and that stood the test of time. Although the company has been long gone, many of their aircraft are still flying, including some DC-3s from long, long ago!


Meet George Jetson
User currently offlineLGAUAOK From United States of America, joined May 2008, 39 posts, RR: 0
Reply 16, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 22 hours ago) and read 4911 times:

Do any domestic (US) 727 passenger planes still fly and with who? I think it would be fun to buy a ticket and go for a ride!

User currently offlineN867BX From United States of America, joined Nov 2004, 339 posts, RR: 0
Reply 17, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 22 hours ago) and read 4775 times:



Quoting LGAUAOK (Reply 16):
Do any domestic (US) 727 passenger planes still fly and with who? I think it would be fun to buy a ticket and go for a ride!

Champion Air flew charters but ceased operations earlier this year. I'm not aware of anyone else other than the occasional private jet.


User currently offlineWESTERN737800 From United States of America, joined Feb 2008, 693 posts, RR: 2
Reply 18, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 21 hours ago) and read 4556 times:

I read when NWA retired the DC-10 that at least one of the frames had something like 130,000 hours total time. Thats pretty impressive. Good maintenance is the key to long aircraft lifespans.


Bring back Western Airlines!
User currently offlineFlyPBA From United States of America, joined Feb 2007, 431 posts, RR: 0
Reply 19, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 21 hours ago) and read 4253 times:

Boeing still has their B247 that is in flyable condition

User currently offlineFlyMIA From United States of America, joined Jun 2001, 7175 posts, RR: 9
Reply 20, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 20 hours ago) and read 3763 times:

Pretty long. I still see DC-3s flying in and out of MIA and OPF. I think this question will be answered when the last NW DC-9 is retired in 2025 when its replaced by a 737-3000 or A420  Wink


"It was just four of us on the flight deck, trying to do our job" (Captain Al Haynes)
User currently offlineVoar From Canada, joined Jul 2008, 95 posts, RR: 0
Reply 21, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 19 hours ago) and read 3671 times:

The Cessna 350 and 400 (formerly Columbia 350 and Columbia 400) are certified with an unlimited airframe life limit by the FAA, so time will tell how many of these will be flying in the future.

User currently offlineTonystan From Ireland, joined Jan 2006, 1437 posts, RR: 2
Reply 22, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 19 hours ago) and read 3498 times:

Airliners tend to be built to withstand a certain number of "cycles". A single cycle would be a complete take off - pressurisation - landing. Once the aircraft reaches a certain number of cycles the aircraft must go in for certain maintenance checks (like your 5k, 20000k, 30000k checks for your car) and when it is coming to the end of its life cycle it is usually retired. However if an aircraft can be maintained well enough it may continue to fly. However the older the plane gets the heavier and more costly the maintenance becomes. Before 9/11 and the Concorde crash there were plans to extend the operational life of the aircraft so that it could continue to fly for another 10-15 years.


My views are my own and do not reflect any other person or organisation.
User currently offlineSNAFlyboy From United States of America, joined Oct 2007, 86 posts, RR: 0
Reply 23, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 18 hours ago) and read 2989 times:

It would appear that, while an aircraft could be maintained for an incredibly long period of time theoretically speaking, the age of the aircraft is proportional to the amount of money you're willing to throw at it! In the end, possibly even the amount of time you're willing to spend working on it...

Hmm...what do you guys think? Could we make a nice parabolic curve with a graph of Cost vs. Age and watch the costs skyrocket?


I kid, of course. 

~SNAFlyboy

[Edited 2008-08-11 19:28:44]

User currently offlineKanban From United States of America, joined Jan 2008, 3551 posts, RR: 26
Reply 24, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 18 hours ago) and read 2975 times:
Support Airliners.net - become a First Class Member!

had a Boeing model 40A fly in several weeks ago built in 1925.... true it crashed and has been restored

25 Starlionblue : There are actually still aircraft from the 1910s flying. Mostly it's just hops along the (grass) runway on days with little wind and clear skies. But
26 HAWK21M : An aircraft can last as long as it is "Economically" viable to be mantained. regds MEL
27 DALMD88 : I think the beat all is going to be the USAF with the B-52. The surviving fleet was built in 1961/1962 and currently is looking at a retirement date o
28 MD11Engineer : AFAIK, the last DC-3 (C-47) were built in 1946. Jan
29 Viscount724 : Interestingly, NW has only been a DC-9 operator for slightly less than 22 years, when they merged with Republic Airlines in October 1986 and inherite
30 HAWK21M : Their frequency of checks may not be very spaced out I guess. regds MEL
31 SEPilot : Yes, they were. They did not offer them commercially because they wanted to sell new 757's. As to the DC-3's, after the war Douglas was concerned abo
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