Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées Airport Nigel Howarth/AWST

Old Birds

Smarter end-of-life strategies will cut into storage figures, Avolon says.

The number of parked aircraft is expected to remain constant at about 2,100 aircraft even as the global jet transport fleet doubles, to 51,800 aircraft, over the next 20 years, lessor Avolon projects in its latest forecast.

How so? 

Simply put, aircraft owners are getting more savvy about how they manage their assets—and more realistic about what those assets are worth.

By Avolon's count, there are about 1,000 aircraft in storage that aren't likely to see a runway again. Half of them are at least 25 years old, and the other half have been parked for at least three years. 

A 2015 Avolon study found that 15 years of age is a reliable marker for determining whether a parked aircraft will return to service, which suggests that the current stored fleet can be pruned significantly. 

The same study determined that aircraft parked at least three years stand about a 50% chance of returning to service; this figure drops to 20% for aircraft idled five years or more.

With some 16,000 aircraft headed into retirement by 2037 to help offset some of the nearly 43,000 projected new deliveries, how will industry keep aircraft boneyards from overflowing?

Part of the answer: "a more focused approach to tear-down and recycling," Avolon notes. This touches on the emerging aircraft end-of-life industry, in which owners, operators, materials managers, and even OEMs are teaming up to sensibly—and, if possible, profitably—dispose of unneeded assets. This strategy is extending into aftermarket space, as airlines actively pursue aircraft and engines to tear down and support sunsetting fleets.

The emergence of used materials will influence retirements, particularly during dips in traffic demand that make younger aircraft more palatable as spare-parts packages than passenger- or freight-haulers.

In general, Avolon sees the average aircraft retirement age holding steady over the next two decades, albeit with a near-term dip"as the remaining first-generation commercial jets become a dwindling proportion of the active fleet."

Once new generation of aircraft has established itself, the median retirement age will be around 25 years—with fewer older birds hanging around in the sand.

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