Airlines Pay Dearly To Keep Older Jets Running For Summer

By Spyros Georgilidakis | April 9, 2024

With new airliner deliveries being too slow, airlines are instead putting older jets through costly maintenance programs, to meet demand.

In previous years, we have seen major airport disruptions during the summer. But those had nothing to do with a lack of aircraft. As the pandemic eased, the airlines and airport authorities underestimated the speed with which travel demand recovered.

Photo: Nyttend

Now, the industry faces a different problem – one that would have seemed unimaginable 2-3 years ago. The airlines simply don’t have enough aircraft, which is forcing them to keep their older jets around for longer. But this is easier said than done.

Well before their jets get older (or even before they buy them), the airlines have a pretty good idea of how long they will keep them in use. Airlines and lessors go through this usage (in years or flight hours, or both) in some detail, along with other key factors.

Airlines Pay Dearly To Keep Older Jets Running For Summer
Photo: Ryan Johns

Airlines Scramble For Older Jets

Often, airlines choose to keep their airliners around until they are up for an expensive check, which will see them spend several weeks in a hangar, getting torn apart and put back together. Rather than undergoing such a check, the airlines (or lessors) may just put their older jets in storage, until someone eyes them up – for spares or freighter conversion.

Photo: Lukas Souza

Making changes to these plans at short notice is difficult. Lessors could have already made planes with other airlines (and maintenance centers) for these older jets. And even if the airlines that use them actually own them, they would need to invest heavily in maintenance, for older, LESS efficient aircraft.

But it seems that this is what airlines now have to do. We have seen how Boeing’s troubles mean that its customers are now expecting long delivery delays. At the same time, many A320neo-family airliners are out-of-service, because of unscheduled Pratt & Whitney engine checks.

Airlines Pay Dearly To Keep Older Jets Running For Summer
Photo: Dave from Airport Operations, CC BY-SA 4.0

These and other supply-chain issues, plus the early retirement of older jets during the pandemic, have created this crisis. The situation gives more leverage to lessors, for aircraft of all ages. Aircraft lease rates are reportedly at their highest levels since 2008.

These conditions also create a lack of available aircraft for cargo conversions – although demand for such conversions is now low. And even with these moves, many passenger airlines simply can’t find enough older jets. As a result, many of them will have to trim their summer flight schedules.


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