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What Determines An Aircraft’s Lifespan?

Aircraft require increased maintenance as they age, meaning frequent check-ins and repairs will be needed to keep your aircraft in operation. Over time, an airplane loses its airworthiness and the price of maintenance begins to exceed the value of the airplane, which can be a good indicator that the plane is reaching the end of its lifespan. However, if the price of keeping your aircraft operational is not a concern, then aircraft lifespans end when they are no longer airworthy. Some damage or wear may be beyond repair, and an attempt to make the aircraft airworthy would be a threat to safety. It is important that pilots do not push the limits of their machines, as this can be catastrophic. There are telltale signs of aircraft needing maintenance, and this blog will cover a few ways to identify if your aircraft is at risk of losing its airworthiness.

For business jets and airliners, maintenance is required after a certain amount of cycles, that of which includes the process of pressurizing and depressurizing the cabin for flight. For pressurized aircraft, this process puts extra strain on the airframe; however, there are other limits that pilots should be aware of, as no aircraft can fly indefinitely. All aircraft are susceptible to the threats of corrosion, especially if the body of the aircraft is aluminum. It is important to keep the at-risk surfaces corrosion-proof, especially for aircraft operating in wet environments. For other parts of aircraft that are replaceable, the best way to maintain your aircraft’s airworthiness is to replace them regularly, regardless of their ability to function.

Small parts, such as batteries, can be replaced fairly frequently, while large systems, such as engines, can be replaced part by part. The pilot’s operating handbook should always indicate time-limited components of the aircraft in an easily accessible manner as to allow for proper upkeep. Engines, for example, have defined lifespans. They are also the most prone to failure;  in every safety review that ASF has done on a specific model of light aircraft, the engine is at least twice as likely to be the cause of or a factor in an accident than other aircraft-related causes. Using your engine frequently is the best way to avoid rust on the cylinders due to moisture build-up. This leads to corrosion of the cylinder walls and increased oil consumption if not treated. While this does not directly lead to engine failure, it drains the engine of power. At the end of its lifespan, the entire engine can be replaced to keep your aircraft airworthy.

Aging occurs more rapidly when aircraft are left outside and exposed to the elements. As with cars, leaving aircraft uncovered outdoors risks paint damage and corrosion. Storing aircraft in hangars adds additional costs to ownership; however, it potentially saves money on repairs due to sunlight and water taking a toll on your plane. Windows also suffer from sunlight exposure and become hazy over time, which disrupts visibility. This is a safety hazard for pilots in flight as it obstructs their view of the surrounding skies.

The best way to maintain the lifespan of various parts is to know your aircraft and treat it with care. Paying attention to your aircraft’s specific functions allows you to be aware of danger areas and frequently used parts that may be in need of frequent repairs. For example, aircraft flying at 4-5Gs must be in better shape than those flying at 1G or those flying in less harsh environments, such as day flights. Pilots should pay attention to time-limited parts in order to avoid consequences. Special attention should be given to certain highly used materials, such as certain aspects of retractable landing gear, such as valves and wiring, that wear faster than a solid piece of spring steel or an oleo strut. Gaskets should also be replaced routinely as they undergo a lot of wear from contact. Improper maintenance of the fuel tank seal can lead to contamination and expensive damage that can be easily avoided with a $2 replacement gasket.

Additional attention should be paid to instruments like altimeters or any other part that has gone a while without inspection or repair.

The main thing to keep in mind is to never disregard the importance of maintaining any part, no matter how small, as this can improve both costs and aircraft lifespans. Alpha Aerospace Parts is a leading distributor of over 2 billion new, used, obsolete, and hard-to-find parts for your operations! Owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, we only source items from a list of premium approved suppliers as quality is the cornerstone of our business. Allow us to be your parts procurement partner and fill out an RFQ form for any item to receive a custom quote within 15 minutes!


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