What and where are the oldest aircraft still operating in the UK?
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You might hear a lot about the newest, latest and greatest innovations in aviation. Fully enclosed suites, onboard showers and planes that can fly longer, faster and more efficiently than any aircraft that have come before them.
But what about the other end of the scale? Aircraft are very expensive to purchase new, so airlines expect to get tens of thousands of hours of operations from them, as well as years — if not decades — of service.
So just how old are the oldest aircraft in the U.K., and which airlines are they flying for?
According to the comprehensive PlaneSpotters log, the oldest commercial aircraft registered in the United Kingdom still listed as “active” is a Boeing 757-200 aircraft, operated by Jet2. This plane, with registration G-LSAG, has been operating for more than 32 years, since 1987. The aircraft was first operated by the Civil Aviation Administration of China in 1987 before being delivered to China Southern Airlines in 1990. Jet2 took delivery of the aircraft in 2006.
Jet2 operates a fairly seasonal operation, which may explain why the aircraft hasn’t operated any commercial flights since late last year. After operating many rotations between the U.K. and the Canary Islands, the aircraft was ferried from Manchester (MAN) to Kemble (GBA) in the Cotswolds in November 2019.
An eagle-eyed TPG reader has also found an aircraft even older than this, an aircraft type that is not listed on the detailed PlaneSpotters log. It’s fairly rare – there’s only a few hundred of these aircraft left in the world. Loganair’s B-BVVK, a De Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 Twin Otter aircraft is a whopping 40 years old. It’s still operating through the coronavirus pandemic plying some regional routes throughout Scotland including landing on a beach in Barra – an unusual route we consider to be the a bucket-list flight for #avgeeks.
As for British Airways, it’s the largest world’s largest operator of the Boeing 747 aircraft. While the iconic Queen of the Skies was a popular and common sight in its heyday, many other airlines have retired their 747 fleets, choosing to replace the gas-guzzling, four-engine aircraft with more fuel-efficient, modern twin-engine aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused British Airways to consider accelerating the retirement plans of its sizeable 747 fleet. While currently listed as “stored”, the oldest British Airways aircraft is its 27-year-old Boeing 747-400, registration number G-BNLY, delivered to BA back in February 1993. This four-class aircraft is painted in the special Landor livery to celebrate the airline’s centenary birthday in 2019.
How about smaller regional aircraft in the U.K.? The list of active frames changes constantly as airlines like Flybe cease operations and other airlines park, store and retire their older, smaller aircraft.
According to PlaneSpotters, none of the commonly found regional aircraft like Embraers, Dash-8s or Fokkers have noticeably old frames still operating from the U.K. Interestingly, the oldest SAAB aircraft in the U.K., according to PlaneSpotters, is a SAAB 2000 with registration G-LGNR, which commenced operations way back in 1993. This operated between Loganair and Flybe between 2014 and 2019 but is listed as “stored” by lessor Rockton Aviation since June 2019.
Even the oldest commercial aircraft still flying in the U.K. top out around the 30-year age mark before flying off to aircraft heaven or being sold off internationally. There are a number of reasons why airlines will retire aircraft before they reach this age, even if they can still operate normally.
Older aircraft tend to be far less fuel-efficient than their more technologically advanced and aerodynamically younger, newer replacements. Like a used car, older aircraft also require more maintenance and can have more technical issues the more zeros they rack up in total flying time.
Passenger comfort is also significantly improved in newer models, with some passengers likely to actively seek out a new plane with a new seat, rather than a tired aircraft that is several decades old.
How old can aircraft be and still be able to operate? Well, you won’t find this aircraft type operating daily services from Heathrow, but if you visit the Shuttleworth Collection, an aeronautical museum in Old Warden, Bedfordshire, you can find the oldest British aircraft still in flying condition.
This is the Bleriot XI, an aircraft registered as G-AANG in 1909, only six years younger the than the famous Wright Brothers aircraft. At more than 100 years old, this plane is only occasionally flown and only done under favourable weather conditions.
The Shuttleworth Collection puts on around a dozen air shows each year to try and exhibit these truly vintage aircraft in flying condition.
Unless your aircraft has that new plane smell, you might not know if the plane you are flying in is 2 or 20 years old. When an airline does a tip-to-tail refurbishment of an older aircraft, it can do this so well it appears to take years off the plane’s age.
The coronavirus pandemic will unfortunately see most fleets shrink, such as Virgin Atlantic retiring its 747s earlier than expected. Some airlines are using the opportunity to accelerate the retirement of their oldest aircraft to ensure that they can give their passengers their best planes with their best products.
Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy
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