Which Airlines Have the Youngest Fleets?

Jun 24, 2019

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Every year executives from all major airlines and airplane manufacturers gather at one of the two major aviation trade shows, held on alternating years in Paris and Farnborough outside London. This year was the Paris Air Show, where airlines ordered around 900 new airplanes, with hundreds of orders going to Boeing and Airbus. Last year at Farnborough, the total was almost 1,500, according to data gathered by FlightGlobal magazine.

The Dubai Air Show, also held every other year, is the third venue where major aircraft orders are announced. Its rise has coincided with the growing size of Gulf carriers, which often use it to pit Boeing and Airbus against each other for huge orders.

Each of the big three shows is an occasion for airlines to plan the future of their fleet by ordering next-generation aircraft, from the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 in recent years to more recent innovations like the Airbus A321XLR, which dominated the scene at this year’s Paris Air Show.

To mark this process of fleet renewal, here’s a look at which carriers around the world already have the youngest fleets.

US Airlines

All three of the US legacy carriers are adding aircraft such as 787s and A350s to their fleets, but they still have some of the oldest planes, on average, flying today. That has no bearing on safety, but can certainly affect passenger comfort.

The youngest fleets in the United States belong to two airlines that aren’t known for investing heavily in a comfortable passenger experience: Frontier (4.2 years) and Spirit (5.6 years).

Alaska Airlines also has a relatively young fleet, with an average age of 8.4 years. While the carrier had to ditch its all-Boeing strategy when it acquired Virgin America and its fleet of about 70 Airbus A319/320/321 aircraft, the Virgin additions actually lowered Alaska’s overall fleet age as some of the A321s were practically brand new.

Those annoyingly bright Spirit planes are some of the youngest ones flying in the US (Image from: Chris Sloan)
Those neon-bright Spirit planes are some of the youngest flying in the US, like this Airbus A320neo (Image by Chris Sloan/TPG)

International Carriers

When it invests hundreds of millions of dollars in a single plane, an airline has to fly it long enough to recoup the investment. There are, however, about 15 major airlines that are able to keep their average fleet age under seven years. Some are carriers known for premium service, like Emirates and Singapore, but some are not:

Airline Average Fleet Age
Norwegian 3.8
Aeroflot 4.4
Hainan 4.9
EVA 5.3
Ethiopian 5.7
Etihad 5.9
China Eastern 5.9
Qatar 6
Emirates 6.2
Vietnam Airlines 6.3
Avianca 6.5
Malaysia 6.7
Turkish 6.8

 

For most of the airlines on this list we considered only the mainline fleet and not any regional subsidiaries (sorry American Eagle and United Express), however Norwegian Airlines actually breaks its operations into a number of different legal entities registered in various countries across Europe. In order to provide a more objective picture of the airline’s overall operations, we looked at the entire fleet. Norwegian’s combined fleet has over 160 aircraft with an average age of 3.8 years, making it the youngest fleet in the air today.

Young planes are less likely to have maintenance problems or wear and tear that might detract from the in-flight experience, but an older, well-maintained plane shouldn’t have any issues with flight safety.

In fact, the crashes that have occurred in recent months — from the well-known 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia to the crash of a two-year-old Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet 100 — have involved new planes. Both Aeroflot and Ethiopian Airlines rank near the top of the list when it comes to the youngest overall fleet.

In short: there is no direct correlation between an airplane’s age and its safety, which depends on many factors.

It’s important to remember that these numbers are calculated as averages across hundreds of aircraft. Keeping the overall fleet age down requires a combination of new aircraft purchases and retiring older aircraft. For example, that is what Virgin Atlantic is in the process of doing. The airline ordered 14 Airbus A330-900neo aircraft, with an option for six more, at the Paris Air Show. Virgin Atlantic is in the midst of a 10-year fleet overhaul that will see it replace all of its aircraft and cut its average fleet age nearly in half from 9.6 years to just 5.3.

For more news and updates from the 2019 Paris Air Show be sure to read:

This story has been updated to include Norwegian Air.

Featured image of the 53rd International Paris Air Show 2019 by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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