Airplane retirement party postponed

In April and May 2020, when global air travel had essentially come to a standstill and it became clear that the pandemic would last more than a few weeks, a popular narrative was that the crisis would cause airlines and lessors to put more squirts than usual to pasture constantly. The concern was that this would then create a glut of cheap parts harvested from older planes, dampening the demand for new spare parts from Raytheon Technologies Corp., General Electric Co. or Honeywell International Inc. for years. It didn’t quite turn out that way, at least not yet.

Airlines have accelerated the removal of some of the older clunkers and full-size models, but many of them had already been marked for removal before the pandemic began. Delta Air Lines Inc., for example, has delayed the retirement of its MD-88 and MD-90 jets until June 2020, more than 30 years after first taking delivery of the series of jets made by the former McDonnell. Douglas. British Airways had planned to retire its Boeing Co. 747 double-deckers by 2024, but accelerated that timetable after the pandemic upended the economic calculus to fly massive planes across the Atlantic. The airline’s entire 747 fleet ceased operations in October 2020. Overall, however, there hasn’t been much of a retirement boom.

According to an analysis of company reports and Aviation Week fleet data compiled by Rob Stallard of Vertical Research Partners, 551 jets were retired in 2020, compared to 517 in 2019. There were just 344 departures retired in 2021, which represents about 1.4% of the global fleet, he wrote in a January report. The average over the 10 years before the pandemic was about 2.6%. Only 27 jets were retired in January, implying an even lower number than last year if this pace continues, Stallard wrote in a separate note this month.

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