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U.S. airlines watch fleets age as they wait for new planes

U.S. airlines watch fleets age as they wait for new planes

Old Oct 27th, 2007, 03:43 AM
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U.S. airlines watch fleets age as they wait for new planes

There is an interesting article today in the International Herald Tribune at http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/10/...ess/planes.php.

It was obvious from the news reports that both Boeing and Airbus were getting bumper orders, but I hadn't realised how few of those were from airlines in the U.S.

Northwest has 190 DC9s with an average age of 35 years, while the European budget airlines generally fly brand new planes which are cleaner, quieter and more fuel-efficient.

With order books so full, even if they started ordering planes now, it would be several years before the new planes could be in service.

What's going on? And where will all this lead?
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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 07:53 AM
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I don't disagree with the main title, but if they want to mention European budget airlines, then please also mention US "low cost" airlines. Jetblue has relatively new planes, Virgin America is receiving all brand new planes, Skybus is receiving all brand new planes, Airtran is continuing to receive new planes.

And in Europe, AF, KL, BA, LH all still fly 15-20 year old A320, B737 and B747.

And if you look at A380 orders. 1/3 are going to Emirates. Many of the rest going to Singapore, Qantas, Qatar, and so on.

In short, yes, the US lags behind Europe, but really not that much. And even in Asia, there are "rich" airlines and "non-rich" airlines. Orient Thai fly the world's oldest passenger 747s, and evern Cathay Pacific has some 747-400s that are approaching 20 years old (though soon to be retired from passenger service).
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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 08:39 AM
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And your assumption about delivery is also incorrect. Some of the major US airlines do have delivery slots available withing very short time, when and if they decide to order planes, due to previous agreements.
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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 10:25 AM
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Now is not the time to buy new narrowbodies: there'll be a new generation employing 787-type technology in 10 years time that will be much more efficient to operate.

United, which has a comparatively young fleet, has said publicly that it's waiting for that new generation. The only people buying A320 and 737s are those who absolutely need new planes right now.
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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 12:40 PM
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Actually, UA has one of the older fleets out there, and it is the only major US airline with no confirmed order for any new plane. I actually worry about them.

This should be fairly up-to-date:

Airbus A319 55 7.8 years
Airbus A320 39 11.5 years
Boeing 737 90 18 years
Boeing 747 30 12.3 years
Boeing 757 97 15.5 years
Boeing 767 35 12.4 years
Boeing 777 52 9.2 years

Average age is 13.3 years. Meaning in 3 years, average age will be 16.3. The 752s flying p.s. trans-con service will be close to 20-years old, and the 737s which at 90-strong still the backbone for domestic use, over 20 years old AVERAGE.

Boeing and Airbus won't have the next generation narrowbody for another 8-10 years, I believe, so don't laugh at NW's DC-9. UA will be flying 30-year old 737s and 20-year old A320s at that time.
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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 01:23 PM
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As I understand it, 25 years is about optimal for airframe ROI, so United need to replace the 737s around 2014. Boeing have said 2015 is the "sweet spot" to introduce next-generation single aisle planes.

I'm sure Boeing want to get there first, to extend their lead over Airbus--so I don't see 8 to 10 years as unlikely. Boeing's engineering resources will soon be freed up from 787 development, while Airbus is still trying to come up with a viable A350 and has to master all the production and design innovations of the 787.

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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 01:31 PM
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Yes, UA's 737s etc can last until 2015 or even longer. No question about that. But who knows what's the cost is to keep maintaining and flying those birds. What will oil price be then?

NW's flying DC-9s because those planes are fully depreciated and have no value in retiring them. That's why they're retiring their oldest 320s instead. But if oil price is $150 a barrel, the maths may be different.

Those 737s UA have are all previous generation -300s and -500s, which are much less efficient than the 737/8/9s that airlines like WN, AA, CO and AS got lately or are still getting. It's a huge risk they're taking.
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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 01:53 PM
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That may be so. I'd like to think airline managers have good models for all this, but based on recent and historical evidence at United and others, I could be wrong.
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Old Oct 28th, 2007, 04:17 AM
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Thirty-five years is not old for an aircraft. And brand-new planes are not necessarily cleaner, quieter, or more efficient. You should not attempt to apply the standards of automobiles or microwave ovens to aircraft; aircraft are an entirely different world.

A well-maintained, 35-year-old aircraft is much safer than a brand-new, poorly maintained aircraft. Fuel efficiency depends mostly on the type of engines used in the aircraft, since other aspects of aircraft design haven't changed much over the years.

Large and experienced airlines know these things, and so they don't necessarily feel any compulsion to constantly scrap aircraft and buy new ones. New airlines have to either buy new aircraft or buy clunkers that nobody else wants; if they have the budget, they'll opt for the former, and if they don't, they'll opt for the latter.

In any case, from what people are saying here, it sounds like they are making all the wrong assumptions.
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Old Oct 28th, 2007, 05:22 AM
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So everything is OK then. Pangloss is alive and well and living on Fodor's as a commentator on airline matters.

Old planes are just as quiet? I have lived at the end of a runway, and there is no comparison between the noise of an old 747 freighter with that of an Airbus 380. Just as clean? Not in my experience. New engines are more efficient, and the oil price keeps rising.

There is always something new and better on the horizon, but it can be risky waiting for it. The A380 has been late into service, and the 787, a bigger leap forward technologically, is also now delayed. I am not sure how the manufacturers feel about allocating delivery slots to airlines who have not actually placed orders.

U.S. airlines have had a difficult time since 9/11, and in such circumstances it is sensible to make your assets work for you a little longer. However, that only puts off the evil day when you will have a big bill for replacements.

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Old Oct 28th, 2007, 06:16 AM
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I am not sure how the manufacturers feel about allocating delivery slots to airlines who have not actually placed orders.

they don't have a choice....
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Old Oct 28th, 2007, 09:10 AM
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Old aircrafts can be quiet and fuel efficient if they refit them with modern engines, or if for noise only - hush kits. But the cost of new engines are so high that no one will do them. How many percentage of passenger aircrafts in service has refitted engines? Almost zero.
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Old Oct 28th, 2007, 12:04 PM
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"I am not sure how the manufacturers feel about allocating delivery slots to airlines who have not actually placed orders.

they don't have a choice...."

I puzzled over this, and then found the following report about American Airlines in Flight Global for 3rd April 2007.

"Boeing has shown itself to be accommodating. In the latest evolution of American's narrowbody order - which was revised after the 9/11 attacks - the manufacturer offered the airline three precious slot openings in the 737's 2009 production line.

American says that several more slot options embedded in its current contract could effectively shift its current order for 47 737-800s from 2013-16 to 2009-12.

Notably, that contract contains rights to order more 737-800s with delivery guarantees as low as 15 months. That same deal, American revealed last week, includes the right to purchase 787s. Boeing will not discuss possible 787 slot rights for American, but under current production forecasts nothing is available until 2012."

Is this the barrel over which the airlines have the manufacturers?

Keep whistling. Those MD80s could be in service forever.
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Old Oct 29th, 2007, 03:24 AM
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As previously pointed out, noise, efficiency, and pollution are mainly functions of powerplants, which can be changed. If you are looking for something that is aerodynamically efficient, you may find that the 747 does better than the A380 (it is already capable of flying faster).

I think people are conditioned by cars, cell phones, and PCs to believe that everything must be thrown out and replaced every few months or years. That's not how aviation works, fortunately.
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