Airplane tires need to be able to withstand extremely heavy loads as they hit the ground as an aircraft lands. Due to this, they need to be replaced, or at the very least retreaded or recapped, more often than the tires used in other modes of transportation.
There are a few factors that influence just how long airline tires will last, so it’s difficult to state a definitive lifetime.
Let’s take a look at these factors.
3 Factors That Influence How Long Airline Tires Last
Type of Aircraft
Every time a commercial airliner lands, its tires are put under a much heavier load than most aircraft. This means that the tires used on commercial airplanes can last for 200-300 landings, which will be much less than the tires used on lighter aircraft.
An airline can expect to get approximately 300 landings from the tires on an Airbus 380, which is the world’s largest passenger airliner. The amounts to about six months of operation.
Type of Landing
A hard landing, which is when an aircraft hits the ground with a greater vertical speed and force than in a normal landing, will inevitably put a heavier load on airline tires and cause them to wear out more quickly.
Hard landings can cause just mild passenger discomfort to serious injury and/or loss of life. Either way, before an aircraft can take flight again it must be inspected for damage. A hard landing can therefore cause a great amount of damage to airplane tires.
Crosswind landings, which is when a plane must attempt to land as the wind blows perpendicular to the runway, can also cause tires to wear out more quickly. This is down to the hard overcorrection and side loading that occurs as an airplane lands.
The tire marks you see on a runway can sometimes be caused by side loading as an aircraft drifts or skips on its side as it lands.
Runways can either be man-made – using asphalt, concrete, or a mixture of the both in their construction- or natural – made of grass, dirt, and gravel. Both man-made and natural runways can cause problems.
Asphalt runways are susceptible to ruts, which can result in quicker tire wear. Concrete runways also have their own maintenance challenges too. Manmade runways can also develop cracks, spalling, and most dangerous of all, potholes, which all contribute to tire wear.
Inevitably, airports carry out a lot of preventative maintenance which can ensure tires won’t suffer any unavoidable damage and will last longer. But many runways aren’t as well-maintained, especially natural ones, though a grass runway can actually be easier on tires than a concrete or asphalt runway due to its softer surface.
Bad weather conditions can cause crosswinds and hard landings, which as you now know contribute to airplane tires wearing out more quickly.
So for airplanes that operate in areas that regularly experience gusty winds, for example, their tires can wear out more quickly compared to other locations.
How to Make Airplane Tires Last Longer (Retreading/ Recapping)
Airplane tires are expensive, so if at all possible, aircraft owners and operators want to avoid completely replacing a tire. Therefore, in the world of aviation, it’s standard to retread tires (also known as recapping).
As the tread of an airplane tire wears out much more quickly than its casing (everything other than the tread), the logical thing to do is to just retread the tire. As some airline tires can be retreaded up to seven times, you can see that significant cost savings can result.
Retreading commonly occurs when tires have numerous cuts in the tread area, when there is a badly worn section of the tread (known as the flat spot), or when the tread is evenly worn.
Once all the tires have been retreaded/recapped, you can usually expect them to last for another 100 landings, though some may need to replaced sooner.
Pre-spinning Airline Tires to Make Them Last Longer
A study by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University found that 99% of airplane tire wear could be eliminated by pre-spinning the tires to closely match the speed an aircraft will be traveling at as it touches down. So, why hasn’t this been implemented? In short, it’s an idea that sounds better in theory than reality, largely due to it not being particularly cost-efficient.
Installing motors to prespin the tires is not only costly but also adds more weight to an aircraft. Additional weight results in a greater amount of fuel consumption and therefore higher fuel costs. There are also maintenance costs to consider, as well as there not being very much room inside a wheel rim to install a motor in the first place.
The wheel rim already contains multi-plate disc brakes that take up a large amount of space and can get very hot when the brakes are applied. This would create a harsh environment for any motor to function and it would also wear out more quickly.
Replacing, retreading, or recapping airplane tires is simply easier and more economical than attempting to implement a system to extend tire wear.
From a safety point of view, a malfunction of the motor can result in skidding. Spinning wheels also add gyroscopic effects, which can make it harder to line up an airplane with the runway and land safely.