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What Determines an Aircraft’s Lifespan?

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there are some aged jets flying regularly across the United States. In looking at the average aircraft age in years of the major carriers, you’ll find a wide array, from just a year old to 26 years old.

However, the average age of these aircraft is about 13 years old. The average age of regional aircrafts, owned and operated by much smaller commercial airlines, is nearly 28 years old. These are aircraft made by major manufacturers, including Boeing, Airbus, Gulfstream, Bombardier, Cessna, Embraer, and Dassault, and are often smaller aircraft than those flown by commercial airlines.

Age seems like a compelling number -- and it is interesting, at the very least, to consider. However, aircraft lifespan depends on many factors, including flight frequency, maintenance and flight hours. But just one of these has the biggest impact on how long a jet will last.

Unlike cars, we don’t determine a jet’s remaining viable lifespan based on the number of miles on the odometer. Aircraft aging is far more nuanced and takes into account multiple factors that you should consider when searching for your next pre-owned business jet for sale.

Aircraft Flight Hours
Most airliners anticipate large jets to last about 30 years, assuming they’ve received the right care. Private jets' lifespans tend to be shorter; look to the aircraft’s manufacturer for information on anticipated years of service. It will vary by aircraft size, make, and model.

However, even a jet with lots of flight hours may have been through a low number of pressurization cycles, which means it will last longer than aircraft with the same flight hours flown through shorter, more frequent flights. Don’t let the number of flight hours on a listing for a private aircraft for sale take you aback, however you should still take it into consideration.

Pressurization Cycles of Aircraft
So how do aircraft really age? Aircraft do not age in terms of years, although those can play a role. Pressurization cycles are what truly age an aircraft. Each time a plane takes flight, it is pressurized, which stresses the fuselage and wings. Both of these are made of large, plate-like pieces of metal, connected with fasteners.

Over time, the areas around the fastener holes begin to crack due to metal fatigue. Aircraft used for short, frequent trips undergo more pressurization cycles more frequently than those used for long hauls, like international flights.

Manufacturers determine aircraft lifespan based on take-off and landing cycles. Frequent inspections and maintenance can prolong the life of a jet, and metal fatigue-related repairs can be included in that maintenance, which also focuses on engines, avionics systems, and other areas of the aircraft.

During production, manufacturers perform non-destructive evaluations of individual components for the purposes of quality control to eliminate materials with defects. These evaluations can continue throughout the service life of a business jet and are designed to detect cracks as small as four-hundredths of an inch.

Commercial airliners and manufacturers conduct these inspections using powerful technologies, like ultrasonic phased-array testing, which uses ultrasonic waves to locate even the tiniest damage. It’s a surefire way to identify where issues may arise and prevent them by replacing the part altogether, or performing necessary repairs.

On average, a Boeing 747 can endure about 35,000 pressurization cycles -- between 135,000 and 165,000 flight hours -- before it’s time for retirement. And just like with flight hours, the number of pressurization cycles a private business jet can handle are generally fewer.

What to Watch for When Shopping for a Private Jet for Sale
If you’ve been tasked with locating and purchasing a pre-owned business jet for your corporation’s fleet, it’s vital that you prepare to begin by researching the manufacturers and models of used aircraft for sale. Rule out the aircraft sizes that will not suit the needs of your business, so you can focus your search.

Speak with your company’s executive leadership, or ask yourself the answers to these questions:

  1. Who will be traveling on the flights? How many people will need to travel all at once?

  2. What kinds of tasks will need to be completed during the flight? Business meetings? Independent work?

  3. How far will your team need to fly in one trip? Are you conducting business within the contiguous United States, or will your company require transatlantic or international travel?

Once you have answered these questions, you will have an idea of the features your next business jet must possess, including seating capacity, range, and cabin features. Work with your company pilot to determine the avionics and equipment they would anticipate or expect in a business jet, too. Finally, factor in how much you can spend on the purchase and annual operational costs.

Then, and only then, should you take a deep dive into the aircraft listings to narrow your search to a few ideal business jets. Look for things like:

  • Total cycles

  • Total flight hours

  • Total APU time since new (avionics)

  • Meticulous maintenance records

  • Enrollment in an aircraft service plan

As you go through this process, you should work with an aircraft dealer or broker with significant private aviation industry experience. They can help you navigate listings of aircraft for sale and determine what may be the best fit for your company’s needs. Don’t hesitate to get the professional guidance you need; you’re making a very important decision.


Find Pre-Owned Business Jets for Sale at AircraftExchange.com
When it’s time for your company to acquire a business jet to add to your fleet, look to the listings of private aircraft for sale at Aircraft Exchange. Through our exclusive search portal, you can identify jets with the right size, power, and amenities for your company, and connect with accredited dealers and verified private aviation service providers affiliated with the International Aircraft Dealers Association.

No other aircraft sales site has the global reach, industry expertise, or network of dealers like AircraftExchange. We personally verify the legitimacy of every exclusive listing on our site. Browse our aircraft for sale, or contact one of our accredited dealers to start your search.

Posted on: August 12, 2020

Written by: Brian Humes