New Aircraft or Used…what is the difference?


What is the primary difference between a chronologically older aircraft and a brand new one?

Depending on very specific mission profiles, the only difference between most new aircraft and a 30 year old aircraft is one thing and one thing only, The Price!

The new vs. old debate has nothing to do with safety or reliability when it comes to jet aircraft. And we love them all, but some love really costs a lot more than others.

To start with, corporate jets and commercial jet airliners are generally built to the same FAA standards. Routinely airliners fly 100,000 hours or more before they are retired out of service. The FAA does not disqualify an aircraft based on its chronological age when determining a jet aircraft’s condition or safety. What counts is the aircraft’s current maintenance status, its maintenance history, current required upgrades, AD compliance, and engines if there are noise issues and the aircraft has not been modified.

A well maintained 30 year old jet aircraft with 10,000 hours on its airframe is in reality an aircraft with 90% of its service life still ahead of it at approximately 5% to10% of the cost of a new model. Of course this is not good news for manufacturers, so they desperately imply, market, and depend on convincing potential clients that the new aircraft they build today are safer aircraft than the older aircraft they built last year.

Absolutely manufacturers have made improvements in range and related efficiencies, but that only matters if you need a lot of range. And for sure there have been tremendous improvements in avionics and communication, but electronics are updateable pieces of equipment. Avionics and various electronics are separate safety issues beyond the safety and reliability of the aircraft’s airframe and engines. Radios are constantly updated and many of those updates are mandated by the FAA, so electronics are not just options at the whim of a former owner. Consequently, for all practical purposes, a 30 year old aircraft with 10,000 hours on its airframe is as safe and dependable as any new aircraft. Actually, in many ways, the older aircraft is safer; it has history and is known to be safe, a huge benefit.

Putting this into context, a jet aircraft is one of the few things manufactured that does not have built in obsolescence. Think about it this way, aircraft manufactures do not advertise that you need a new aircraft every few years, because after a few years their now older products are no longer safe. It is quite the opposite; manufacturers point to their fleets with pride and say, “look, 99.9 % of the aircraft we built are still flying, and we started building them in 1963”.

Obviously for the manufacturers this is the ultimate catch 22. They have to sell their new and very expensive aircraft to stay in business. So while they are touting their long term safety record out of one side of their mouths, out of the other side they are hustling us that new aircraft are safer than older ones by inserting this purely Edward Bernay’s question into the brains of the consumer, “you want to be safe don’t you?” In the context of aircraft acquisition, this implies that only new aircraft are safe aircraft, which is totally misleading.

Of course the only difference in this safety issue by a manufacturer between their newer aircraft and the same older aircraft, which they built, is the price difference. They both do the same thing, and they are both equally as safe. That makes the manufacturer’s juxtaposition between new vs. older jets a stunningly exquisite oxymoron, emphasis on moron.

If you question this wisdom, ask yourself this question. When was the last time you flew on an airliner like a 757, 737, 767, or a 747? Then ask yourself how old was that aircraft and did it fly any differently than a brand new one? In fact could you even tell the difference at all? It is likely that most of those airliners are 20 to 40 years old or older. The “new is safer” statement that manufacturers and fractional operators advertise is really marketing propaganda and a con job to hype and sell new ultra-expensive aircraft. It is based on misinformation designed to do only one thing, scare people into buying new aircraft.

So let’s look at a specific situation. If you need to move 8 passengers 3,000 miles nonstop, ask yourself, “do I need to spend $60 million dollars on that Global Express, or does that Challenger 601 for $1.7 million dollars do the same job?” You make the call, the new one or the older one; they are both made by the same company to the same airline standards.

So, newer or older makes no sense as a safety issue. It only makes sense if you buy the hype that somehow safety depends on what year an aircraft was built. It is also helpful to the manufacturers if you cannot wait to spend sixty million dollars on an aircraft that will do exactly the same things, and be as safe, as the one or two million dollar aircraft. The point is, you are not going to be any safer in a new airplane than in an older one. It is a non-argument.

But if you really want to be safe in the airplane of your choice, whatever the age is, absolutely make sure that you have experienced pilots. We cover that discussion in another blog post called “What is going on with pilots?”

Erudite Solutions for Business Aviation

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