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An ATSB report released today shows that the average age of many aircraft in Australia is increasing but that this should not reduce safety if quality maintenance systems are in place.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) report found that the average age of Australia's turbofan aircraft used in regular passenger transport (RPT) is very low. The fleet of aircraft in the 50,000 kg to 100,000 kg category had an average age of just 6 years by the end of 2005. That was 2 years lower than the average age of this fleet in 1995.

The expansion of Qantas, and the introduction of new aircraft by Jetstar and Virgin Blue has lowered the average age of these aircraft. Aircraft in this category include the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, typically used in Australian domestic passenger operations, and on some international routes.

The fleet of larger turbofan aircraft (those above 100,000 kg, including the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A330) have an average age of 11 years. This is still relatively low, and consequently, there would be few signs of maintenance problems related to aircraft age in these aircraft.

The ATSB report also examined the age trend for turboprop aircraft, mostly used in low capacity airline services. Examples of turboprop aircraft operated in Australia include the Raytheon King Air and the Fairchild Metroliner series of aircraft. The turboprop fleet had an average age of 18 years by the end of 2005, which was 2 years older than was the case in 1995. With few new aircraft being manufactured in this category, additional and specific maintenance will be the key strategy to ensure these aircraft meet the necessary airworthiness standards for passenger operations.

The oldest aircraft in Australia are those powered by piston engines. These aircraft, ranging from the small single engine aircraft used at flying schools and in private operations (such as the Cessna 172), to the twin engine aircraft (for example, the Piper Navajo and the Cessna 400 series) used in charter and some low capacity operations, are on average around 30 years old.

The situation affecting piston-engine aircraft is not a challenge just for Australia. Manufacturing output of these aircraft is only a fraction of the production levels seen in the late 1970s, and some popular twin-engine types ceased production altogether in the mid 1980s.

The ATSB report on aircraft age makes clear that chronological age is not the sole determinant in assessing aircraft age. Flight cycles and maintenance regimes are important factors that influence airworthiness.

Managing the consequences of an ageing aircraft population requires cooperative approaches by operators, manufacturers and national regulators to ensure that any defects identified by one operator are notified quickly and efficiently within the industry. If quality maintenance systems are in place, ageing aircraft need not lead to reduced safety.

Copies of the report can be downloaded from the internet site at www.atsb.gov.au

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Last update 01 April 2011