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Australia’s Oldest Commercial Airplanes That Are Somehow Still In Service

  • Mar 13, 2024
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Australia’s Oldest Commercial Airplanes That Are Somehow Still In Service

Airlines are experts at slapping fresh paint on an aircraft and refreshing the cabins to make old airframes look new again.


There’s nothing inherently wrong with this because well-maintained aircraft (and Australia’s aircraft maintenance regime is second to none) can keep flying for years. But you might be surprised to know how old some of the aircraft you fly on really are.

Qantas has seventy-five B737-800s, which you see on domestic and some short-haul international routes. The average age of this fleet is 15.9 years. The youngest, James Strong, at 9.36 years, is easy to spot with its orange retro livery. The oldest, Yananyi, was delivered in 2002 and is now 22.2 years old.

In fact, seven of the B737s are more than 22 years old, and 22 are more than 20 years old. This is one reason why Qantas is embarking on a narrowbody fleet renewal program…

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The QF A330s you catch on flights to Asia and also on the Brisbane–LAX run vary in age between about 11.5 years and 21.5 years. Even the A380s, which seem like they first flew in only a few years ago, now have an average fleet age of 14.5 years, with the oldest being Nancy Bird Walton at 16.14 years and the youngest, Phyllis Arnott, at 12.9 years.

Virgin Australia’s sixty B737-800s have an average age of 12.4 years. VA took the opportunity to offload many of its older aircraft while in administration a few years ago. VA’s oldest B737-800 is Johanna Beach, at 20.65 years with another three B737-800s aged over 20 years. The youngest VA B737-800 is Dreamtime Beach, at 6.14 years.

You can drill into the other, far smaller fleet types at both airlines and their subsidiaries and find some 20th-century examples. Perth-based Virgin Australia Regional Airlines operates Fokker 100s. The oldest is almost 33 years old, and the youngest is more than 29 years old.

Those B717s QantasLink uses are operated by a Qantas outfit called National Jet Systems. The oldest of the ten-strong fleet is almost 25 years and only one of them, Tassie Devil, is under 20 years old (and only just). 

Those nifty Embraers you see scooting around for Qantas are supplied and operated by Alliance Airlines. These planes, which formerly flew for airlines such as American, JetBlue, and Copa, vary between almost 13 years old and 18.5 years old. Alliance’s Fokkers, which don’t fly for Qantas but do some wet lease work for Virgin Australia, have an average fleet age of 32.4 years. 

But the granddaddy of Australia’s commercial aviation fleet are Rex’s Saab 340 turboprops. Rex has 57 of them, and the average fleet age is 30.3 years, with the oldest being 34.2 years and the youngest 25.5 years. Rex has no immediate plans to replace these planes. Rex’s ten B737-800s are youngsters in comparison, with an average age of 14.3 years.

Beyond the slightly substandard cabin experience, there’s no problem operating well-maintained older planes. Older aircraft tend to be noisier, use more fuel, emit more emissions, and if you scrutinize the cabins carefully, have a slightly shopworn look about them. 

Qantas, Virgin Australia, and Jetstar are all busy bringing in new aircraft to replace older types and also expand the overall fleet size. Qantas (or, more correctly, National Jet Systems) is currently inducting the A220-300s. Qantas proper will soon introduce A321neos and has ordered more Dreamliners, including the B787-10s. And let’s not forget the A350-1000s, which the airline will use on nonstop flights to London and New York. These flights are due to start in mid-2026.

The Qantas Group’s discount airline, Jetstar, is presently inducting a steady stream of A321neos, which they will use to build up overall fleet size, replace the older A320 and A321 types (average age 12.7 years), and open new routes. Virgin Australia has a similar rollout underway with their B737MAX 8s. VA presently has three of the type and another 15 on order. The first of 22 larger MAX 10s are due to start landing in 2025. 

Most passengers aren’t going to go full aircraft-nerd and research the age of their plane. Most passengers simply don’t care. They just expect their carrier to get them to their destination safely. Being on time and enjoying a relatively hassle-free experience is a bonus. 

But if it matters to you, an internet search will reveal any airline’s aircraft types as well as the route they fly on. 

Flying long haul? Plenty of airlines will still send older B777s and A330s in and out of Australia. Generally, you’ll score quieter and more ambient cabins on more modern A350 and B787 Dreamliners. But there’s no hard and fast rule.

Ultimately, average service and delays on an airline using a plane delivered last week will result in a lower quality flight than on-time flights and smiles from an airline using a 20-year-old plane. While an aircraft’s age is interesting, it is only one factor in the overall flight experience…


Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by menshealthfits.
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