Aircraft retirements were expected to accelerate with the pressure of the Covid pandemic. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) initiated the ‘Helping Aircraft Decommissioning’ program to support the industry to manage this increase. So far, this soar has not eventuated. What has changed?
Uncertainty in the Global Aviation Industry
The main reason cited for this shift is uncertainty. The Covid pandemic is affecting aircraft retirement trends due to changes in air travel demand and new aircraft delivery schedules. This is making it difficult for airlines to determine when to retire their older aircraft. Airlines have been hit hard by the drop in travel demand, and many are struggling to stay afloat. As a result, they are deferring new aircraft deliveries and the retirement of older ones. The sector is waiting to see how passenger traffic, fleet value, and aircraft manufacturers respond.
The Unexpected Downward Trend
All of these factors are contributing to the slow-down in retirements. According to a new report, the number of retired aircraft in 2021 dropped to the lowest since 2007, with only 429 airlines and lessors retired. The 2022 data looks set to be on par.
Pre the Covid 19 crisis, around 700 aircraft per year were coming to the end of their operational lives, and retired aircraft numbers were increasing. Over the past 35 years, more than 16,000 commercial aircraft have been retired worldwide, and it had been expected that this would increase by another 11,000 aircraft over the next decade. However, the ups and downs of the current market mean that operators are holding on to their older models longer. Storage is comparatively cheap at the moment, which is a better option if fleet demand increases and aircraft need to be brought back into service.
Impact of Increased Fuel Prices
Fluctuating passenger traffic demand is one reason to keep an older ready fleet; another is waiting for the manufacture of new aircraft (which were ‘put on hold’ during the midst of the pandemic). In April, Boeing announced ‘major program deliveries’ in the 1st quarter of 2022. Yet, aerospace manufacturers are still facing many uncertainties, including supply chain issues and an unstable market as the global aviation industry starts its recovery. While the current situation is uncertain, the demand for new aircraft is set to rebound in the coming years as the pandemic comes under control and air travel returns to normal levels.
A major factor that may bring the trend back is the strong influence of fuel prices. The cost of aviation fuel has been rising in recent years, and even more so recently. This is one of the main factors driving up the cost of operating an aircraft. As fuel prices increase, airlines are forced to either raise ticket prices or cut costs elsewhere. In times of high fuel prices, airlines are more likely to retire older aircraft and replace them with new, more fuel-efficient models. With new technologies and more fuel-efficient engines, we expect to see aircraft retirements trend up again.
What This Means for MROs
There has been a knock-on effect on the MRO (Maintenance Repair Operations) sector. MROs rely on a steady stream of aircraft coming through the doors for scheduled maintenance. This has been down for commercial passenger aircraft, but many MROs have seen an increase for cargo aircraft and personal or charter aircraft. With the increase in storage demands rather than retirement, MROs also saw increases in long term storage requests, particularly early in the pandemic. As the aviation industry starts to come out of the effects of the pandemic, MROs will likely experience a surge in demand as aircraft are brought out of storage and passenger carrier maintenance works increase.
MROs also need spare parts for repairs. With fewer aircraft being retired, there may be less supply of used aircraft parts available on the market. However, part of the uncertainty of retiring aircraft at the moment is whether to sell parts now or later. On the one hand, the pandemic’s impact on the scrap value of aircraft has made it less profitable for airlines to scrap their older aircraft. They may not get as much money for the parts, and part-out yield is likely to be higher when demand for maintenance increases again (contributing to the storage now option). But on the other hand, the rise in the number of aircraft being stored might spark some owners to sell for parts now before the market stabilises. Consequently, in mid-March this year, more than 5,000 aircraft were in storage for more than 90 days (compared to only 100s being retired!) and about a third of these were already at least 21 years old.
The retirement of aircraft provides opportunities for companies that offer aircraft parts recycling, as owners seek to dispose of their retired planes and parts. Like all sectors within aviation, the pandemic has thrown unique challenges at the parts marketplace, but be assured AviBuy has a strong selection and all of the aircraft parts listed on the AviBuy marketplace website are in stock and ready to ship – no ghost listings.
With the Covid pandemic creating uncertainty in many sectors of aviation and making it more difficult to forecast demand, there are new considerations for fleet managers when deciding what to do with their ageing aircraft. The aviation industry is still recovering from the pandemic, but as it does, we can expect to see an increase in demand for maintenance. Retiring aircraft may also be more challenging because of uncertainty around scrap value (and spare parts) while keeping these old planes on standby will mean higher operating costs. MROs have also experienced some changes due to decreased demand for commercial passenger flights and increases in cargo services and personal or charter flight requests. If you’re looking for a reputable supplier/buyer of quality parts, AviBuy is the marketplace for you.