How to Care for Your Aging Aircraft
Business Aircraft Center Inc.
According to the May/June edition of FAA Safety Briefing, 40 is now the average age for more than two-thirds of aircraft in the general aviation (GA) fleet. In the early days of aviation, planes were expected to last 20 or 30 years.
But as aircraft construction, design standards, and maintenance requirements have improved, planes are lasting 40, 50, even 60 years! As a result, aging aircraft is a concern for many pilots and FBOs.
Here are some general tips to help you understand, and prepare for, an aging aircraft.
What causes aircraft aging?
There are various factors that contribute to an aircraft aging, including what kind of environment the plane flies in, if the plane is hangared, and how it is used, such as for flight instruction or banner towing.
In response to aging concerns, the FAA and the aviation industry has been studying aging factors that can impact aircraft over time, and much has been learned about corrosion, fatigue, and inspection techniques, which all contribute to aircraft aging and breakdown.
Here are two of the leading contributors to aircraft aging:
Corrosion — Corrosion is the degradation of metals from a chemical reaction, and is one of the most visible signs of aging on an aircraft. Take some time to learn about and understand what corrosion is and looks like on different parts of your aircraft, so you’re better equipped to recognize and treat it. For example, planes stored and flown in warm, humid climates like Florida need to keep a closer eye on corrosion.
Fatigue — Fatigue is less obvious and visible than corrosion, but just as dangerous. Causes of fatigue include wind gusts, unpaved runways, and rookie pilots. Learn the fatigue hot spots on your specific aircraft — usually engine supports and wing spar attachment fittings — and keep them regularly inspected. Another tip is to stay aware of FAA and manufacturer-based notices and service bulletins. Clubs of your specific aircraft are another way to stay aware of potential aging issues.
Older aircraft need closer inspection
As mentioned, design and construction improvements and maintenance requirements all contribute to aircraft longevity, but they can also give owner/operators a false sense of security.
As of now, there is a rule requiring a different inspection based on age of the aircraft. That said, a 40-year-old plane should have a much more thorough inspection than a plane a few years old. On older planes, all areas of the aircraft should be checked, even if they are not required.
Find out if your specific aircraft has any particular aging issues, and remember they aren’t always directly connected to the number of years or flight hours an aircraft has accumulated.
Keep in mind that how an older aircraft is inspected is important. Try to find an Inspection Authorization Mechanic (IA) who is familiar with aging planes, and ask the mechanic to focus on areas prone to aging. And give the aircraft an even closer look if it is subjected to outdoor storage, inactivity, or modifications.
If you need help learning about how to care for your aging aircraft, seek advice from your aircraft’s manufacturer or a mechanic.