Do not panic.
Within the last few days a report was issued ranking the airlines with the youngest-to-oldest aircraft fleet and the prevailing conclusion for many is the older of the aircraft, the more of a safety hazard the airplane must be. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When you See Virgin America has an average fleet age of 5 years, most will equate that with the age of say…a car. Well, I drive a car that is 8 years old and it runs well, so a 5 year average age is certainly okay. Then when you spy Southwest coming in at number 10 with an average aircraft age of 11.7 years your eyebrows may rise up a bit. Nearly 12 years old? Woah, that’s old.
Continue looking down the list and Delta Airlines comes in at number 14 with an average age of 16.9 years and you freak out. A plane from the last century? From 1997? Now that is a concern for many (not for me).
Finally you see Allegiant Air at Number 15 with an average age of 22 years and you reach the conclusion that the last airline you want to fly with is a company which has a jet older than 20 years. After all, who drives a 20 year old car and who would want to be them?
From a convenience standpoint it is fair to review the age of an airline’s fleet. Flying with Jet Blue you may have more modern conveniences with their average plane age at 5 years than when you fly with United who has a 14 year average aircraft age. However, from a safety standpoint one is literally as safe as the other.
Commercial aircraft are almost continually under maintenance and during their “C-Check” inspections many times the engines are almost completely rebuilt. The metal airframe is continually checked for metal fatigue, which the avionics and computers are constantly being checked. So, even though the aircraft may be from 2001, it may have been rebuilt over 5 times (based on the FAA flight-hour requirement), which means we have little to be worried about.
The big exception to the rule is when you are flying in other parts of the world, using airlines which have far less stringent maintenance standards. You know, the airlines that allow chickens to run up and down the aisle. These carriers have, many times, aircraft of an advance age (30-40 years+) and do not have the maintenance standards we enjoy in the United States. (The U.S. State Department issues a list of which airlines need to be avoided when flying internationally.)
For the record, here is the list of the average fleet age of U.S. airlines:
1. Virgin America – 5 years
2. Spirit Airlines – 5.2 years
3. Republic Airways – 5.5 years
4. Jet Blue – 7.4 years
5. Frontier Airlines – 8.2 years
6. Alaska Air – 9.6 years
7. Hawaiian Airlines – 10 years
8. Air Tran – 10.9 years
9. Skywest – 11 years
10. Southwest – 11.7 years
11. US Airways – 12.1 years
12. American Airlines – 13.6 years
13. United Airlines – 13.6 years
14. Delta Ari Lines – 16.9 years
15. Allegiant – 22 years
It’s an interesting list to read, just don’t panic.