The overall lifespan of a plane depends on its model, how often it’s flown, and how well it’s maintained, with most planes lasting a few decades.
Large commercial planes naturally last longer than smaller planes.
A plane’s lifespan can last substantially longer if it’s regularly maintained.
Once planes are retired, they’re either decommissioned or dismantled for parts.
Table of Contents
- 1 How Long Planes Last
- 2 What Happens to Decommissioned Planes
- 3 There is a Market for Second-Hand Aircraft Parts
- 4 What Determines a Plane’s Lifespan
- 5 Jet Engines Last for Years
- 6 Airplane Tire Need to Be Repaired Regularly
- 7 How Long Other Parts of a Plane Last
- 8 Planes Undergo Maintenance Often
- 9 Airlines Eventually Need to Replace Airplanes
How Long Planes Last
Depending on its model and how long it’s been flown, a plane could last anywhere between a few years to a few decades.
A small plane can realistically be operable for a maximum of 40 years if it’s properly maintained.
An unpressurized aircraft has an 11,000 flight hour limit due to wing spar fatigue.
Pressurized small aircraft can fly for as many as 20,000 flight hours.
This translates to roughly 16 million miles of travel under excellent maintenance conditions for most small planes.
Older private jets, up to 25 years old, can fly for 12,000 flight hours, while newer and better maintained private jets can last up to 25,000 flight hours.
Under optimal conditions, a private jet can be flown for as many as 22 million miles.
A commercial airliner is used for between 20 and 36 years depending on the model.
An airliner’s lifecycle doesn’t depend on how long it’s flown for, but how often it’s used.
Based on that, the average commercial airliner can last between 60,000 to 150,000 flight hours.
A commercial airliner would also have a maximum distance of 150 million miles under ideal conditions.
Fighter jets have shorter life cycles of 8,000 flight hours, of which they spend 200 every year on average.
As a result, most fighter jets can function for between thirty and forty years.
They can also fly between a maximum of 1.5 million miles to 2.5 million miles if they’re properly serviced.
What Happens to Decommissioned Planes
Decommissioned planes are either retired or dismantled, depending on the plane’s value.
When aircraft are retired or sent for dismantling or retirement, they’re securely stored in specialized facilities and maintained.
Sometimes, aircraft will even be stored for long time periods before they’re finally dismantled or even sold as second-hand aircraft.
For dismantled aircraft, all their electronics and hardware are removed and sold.
Most used aircraft ‘boneyards’ are located in desert areas to store the large metal components.
There is a Market for Second-Hand Aircraft Parts
Second-hand aircraft parts are purchased for use in general aviation, corporate aviation, and even by airlines for their younger planes that are due for heavy maintenance.
Most poorer countries have older planes, so they’ll purchase second-hand parts, and used aircraft parts are sometimes even purchased for decoration use.
What Determines a Plane’s Lifespan
A plane’s lifespan depends on its take-off and landing cycles.
Frequent inspections and maintenance help prolong a plane’s life – so naturally, a plane lasts longer when its engines and avionics systems are better cared for.
Manufacturers also perform evaluations of components for quality control and to eliminate defective components. These evaluations also occur throughout a plane’s life cycle and help prolong an airplane’s life cycle.
Commercial airlines also conduct inspections of their airplanes to locate damage.
So, a plane’s lifespan mostly depends on its manufacture and use, but it can be vastly improved by better maintaining a plane.
Jet Engines Last for Years
Older jet engines have a Time Between Overhauls (TBO) of 5,000 hours, while more modern jets have a TBO of 6,000.
Most business jets also fly for fewer than 500 hours per annum, so the average business jet lasts around 12 years.
The average cost to overall a jet engine is between one-third to one-fifth of an engine’s purchase price.
So, a small engine’s overhaul costs between $200,000-$300,000 while a larger engine’s overhaul can cost as much as $3 million.
Related: How Much Does a Jet Engine Cost?
Airplane Tire Need to Be Repaired Regularly
The average airplane tire can perform 500 landings before requiring repair.
Typically, the tire’s top layer is peeled off after 500 landings and needs to be replaced.
For instance, the Airbus A380 gets 300 landings from its tires before needing to be replaced.
Each A380 tire costs approximately $5,000.
Related: How Long Do Airplane Tires Last?
How Long Other Parts of a Plane Last
- Airplane Seats
An airplane’s seat has a 20-year lifespan.
Each airline seat have a cost starting at $3,000.
- Ariplane Windows
An airplane window usually lasts 10 years, with each costing approximately $500.
Planes Undergo Maintenance Often
Planes undergo 4 different types of checks that occur between 400 flight hours to 10 years, depending on the type of aircraft and its model.
There are four major maintenance checks on aircraft: A, B, C, and D.
A-checks are performed every 400 to 600 flight hours or every 200 to 300 flight cycles depending on the aircraft.
An A check takes between 50 and 70 man-hours, and the aircraft remains grounded for 10 hours.
They are conducted every 6 to 8 months and take between 160 and 180 man-hours, translating to roughly 1 to 3 days.
C checks are conducted every 20 to 24 months or as specified by manufacturers.
C checks can take as long as 2 weeks.
D-checks are conducted every 6 to 10 years and take up to 50,000 man-hours or two months.
This is considered the heaviest maintenance test.
Airlines Eventually Need to Replace Airplanes
On average, airlines replace their airliners every 13 to 22 years after purchase.
In conclusion, most planes only last a few decades, but their lifespan can be prolonged by taking better care of them better through frequent maintenance.
An airplane’s lifespan depends on its design, how often it’s used, and how frequently the plane is maintained.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.