Sunday, October 14, 2007

Airlines Flying Old Planes, Not Buying New Ones

According to Reuters, the "legacy" airlines are flying old planes and not ordering any new ones. The youngest fleet belongs to Continental—their planes have an average age of 10 years. So why aren't airlines buying any new, more fuel efficient planes?

Apparently, its just not worth the money to most carriers, because the next wave of better airplanes might make ones purchased today obsolete. Sort of like an iPod. Only bigger.

The lack of orders puzzles some experts. They note that U.S. airlines lag European airlines whose aircraft are more fuel-efficient and meet higher noise and emissions standards.

"The average age of the fleet is amazing, and it's time to start serious renewal," said airline consultant Michael Roach.

Roach said some carriers may be delaying orders in hopes of catching the next wave of narrow-body technology that is not due for several years.

"I think there's a lot of reluctance on the part of the carriers to go out and buy a lot of an already obsolete aircraft," he said.

Of the six so-called "legacy carriers" in the United States -- those with a hub-and-spoke network and fly internationally -- Continental Airlines has the youngest fleet with an average age of 10 years old, according to Fitch Ratings data.

In the last 10 years, Continental has replaced its aging, gas-guzzling DC-9s, DC-10s and MD-80s. As of Dec. 31, Continental had firm commitments for 82 aircraft from Boeing.

"We're been very disciplined over the last 10 years," said John Greenlee, Continental's managing director of fleet planning. "It does pay to have that advantage as a younger fleet."

Northwest, which just emerged from bankruptcy this year, has the oldest fleet, with an average age of 18 years. They're looking to replace their DC-9 aircraft, which are at least 25 years old. This is good because we get freaked out when we're in a plane that has ashtrays with cigarette butts still in them, ya know? That's just us.—MEGHANN MARCO