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Buying and maintaining an aircraft is not cheap, but the longer you get to enjoy using your aircraft, the better of an investment it will be. But the question is how long will that be? Unlike cars, appliances, or the roof on top of your home, an aircraft’s lifespan is not necessarily determined by the number of years it is used. There are a number of factors that go into predicting how long an aircraft will last, including:
Aircrafts can either be pressurized or unpressurized, depending on the model. The lifespan of pressurized aircrafts is mainly determined by the number of pressurization cycles, which basically means the number of times the plane is pressurized during take off and then depressurized during landing. Every pressurization cycle puts stress on the wings and fuselage, which is why aircraft manufacturers measure the lifespan based on how many times a plane is in this situation. The more pressurization cycles a plane endures, the less safe it becomes. Pressurized planes are closely monitored through a process known as Nondestruction evaluation (NDE) inspections. These inspections take place first during the production of the aircraft, and then in between flights to look for any defects that could make the aircraft less safe.
Keep in mind the concept of pressurization cycles mainly applies to commercial jets, and although airlines are given recommendations from the manufacturer, ultimately the decision to no longer fly the plane is left up to the airline.
The lifespan of unpressurized planes is affected by the presence of corrosion on the aircraft. Owners who maintain their aircraft and take the necessary precautions to protect the exterior and interior from corrosion will be able to enjoy their planes for a longer period of time. However, sometimes corrosion is beyond your control, such as when you repeatedly fly a plane through wet or salty conditions.
A plane will only last as long as its parts, and sometimes these parts need to be replaced. Aircraft owners should get into the habit of replacing certain parts of their plane every so often even if there is not noticeable damage to them yet. For example, it is recommended that you change batteries about every three years to prevent in-flight issues. Vacuum pumps are supposed to be changed after 500-600 hours of flight, while other parts such as fuel tank bladders can last as long as 15 years.
Some aircraft owners avoid replacing these parts because they don’t want the extra expense, but this is a mistake. Waiting until these parts are no longer usable is not a good idea, so be proactive and follow the industry’s recommendations on when you should be replacing parts to extend the lifespan of your plane. Of course, some parts may need to be replaced earlier than expected, which is why performing routine maintenance checks on every part of your plane is so imperative. Catching any issues before they develop into larger problems is crucial to your safety and will help you lengthen your aircraft’s life significantly.
The condition of your plane’s engine will also tell you a lot about how long your aircraft is expected to last. You may think the more that you fly a plane, the more wear and tear you are putting on the engine, but that is not necessarily true. Regular flyers are actually doing their engines a favor by preventing rust from developing in the cylinders. If you can’t fly your plane on a regular basis, find a treatment to use on your cylinders that will protect them from rust while your plane is grounded.
Engines are under more stress than any other aircraft part during flight, so this is the part of the plane that should be watched the closest for signs of damage. In fact, if you have purchased an older plane, sometimes the only thing you need to do to completely restore it and extend its lifespan is replace the engine.
Exposure to Environmental Elements
A plane’s lifespan is also shortened when it is constantly exposed to harsh environmental elements—not just while it is in flight, but while on the ground, too. For example, if you don’t store your plane in a hangar when it is not in use, you could be significantly shortening its lifespan. How? Any exposure to water either through rain or moisture in the air could increase the chance of corrosion developing on the surface. Windows can also take a beating when left outdoors. The sun can quickly age windows and make it hard for the pilot to see out of them while in flight. Although windows can be replaced, this is one more expense you will have to make to extend the plane’s lifespan. In the long run, it is a smarter decision to pay for a hangar space instead of paying for the endless repairs caused by exposure to environmental elements.
Of course, every pilot believes that some aircraft manufacturers produce more durable, longer lasting planes than others. If you’re thinking of buying a plane, make sure you do your research to figure out which planes have the best reviews and are preferred by the most pilots. If you have friends who are also pilots, ask them for their recommendations as well. Ultimately though, determining which type of plane is best is hard to do and really boils down to your own personal preference.
If you’re going to invest in a plane, make every dollar that you have to spend on it count by taking care of it and extending its lifespan for as long as possible. As you perform maintenance checks on your aircraft, don’t forget to polish the exterior to remove any corrosion, water damage, or cloudy spots that may have accumulated on the surface. Choose Brightwork polish, which has been aviation approved and will help you protect your investment so you can fly off into the sunset for years to come.