11
$\begingroup$

Is there any restriction by FAA that one can not fly a plane older than 'X' years?

If someone is maintaining an older plane (e.g. from 1990s), are there any regulations which prevents or restricts that person to fly that airplane?

I am interested in finding out both for commercial and smaller general aviation airplanes.

$\endgroup$
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ I don't have anything particularly constructive to add, but I just thought it was funny that you mentioned someone "maintaining an older plane (e.g. from the 1990s)" As General Aviation planes go, that would be a practically brand new plane. heh $\endgroup$ – Calphool Jan 13 '15 at 17:35
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ hahaha at '90's being old. The plane I learned to fly on was "built" before I was. And I aint that young! $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Apr 25 '16 at 16:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I sometimes fly a glider built when my grandfather was a toddler... $\endgroup$ – Caterpillaraoz Sep 22 '17 at 13:34
13
$\begingroup$

It depends on the aircraft, but in general the answer is that there are no regulatory age limitations, and indeed we have many aircraft flying that are 50+ years old.

A notable exception is the Robinson line of piston helicopters. The airframe on those helis is limited to 2200 hours or 12 years, whichever comes first, at which point the entire airframe must be completely overhauled. Some of the airframes are indeed rebuilt, but some are also scrapped, depending on level of wear and corrosion.

Since the airframe lifetime is in the LIMITATIONS section of the POH, it is governed by:

§ 91.9 Civil aircraft flight manual, marking, and placard requirements. (a) Except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, no person may operate a civil aircraft without complying with the operating limitations specified in the approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual, markings, and placards, or as otherwise prescribed by the certificating authority of the country of registry.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that the limitation on Robinson helicopters is a manufacturer limitation, not an FAA one. (It has regulatory authority because of where the manufacturer elected to put it in the manual, but if Robinson had published that as a Service Bulletin instead of an airframe Limitation many operators wouldn't be bound by the requirement). $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 13 '15 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ You could say that about any limitation, like an aircraft capable of IMC but not certified for IFR $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 13 '15 at 16:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well I can say it about every limitation I'm familiar with: All the ones I know of are manufacturer-imposed (per the maintenance manual or AFM/POH Limitations section). The FAA does have the regulatory authority to life-limit components or airframes (and to impose other limitations) through ADs if they feel it's necessary and the manufacturer doesn't have a stated limit, but I'm not aware of any case where they've actually done that. $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 13 '15 at 19:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Here's an example of life-limiting a glider via AD (section on wing spar fatigue) en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/LET_L-13_Blan%C3%ADk $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 14 '15 at 13:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Leave it to Australia to be a viable example :-) (It seems the FAA simply grounded the fleet?) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 14 '15 at 18:35
13
$\begingroup$

N60094, a 1909 Bleriot XI based at Rhinebeck Aerodrome Museum, has a valid FAA airworthiness certificate. So I think it's safe to assume there are no FAA restrictions based solely on age.

[N60094]1

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Let me pick a nit. There are many non-certified aircraft flying in the experimental category or under an LLOA, so one example doesn't answer the question in general. $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 13 '15 at 16:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ One case of no lifetime limitations does not disprove the existence of lifetime limitations. $\endgroup$ – casey Jan 23 '15 at 19:19
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @casey: But one case of no lifetime limitation does disprove existence of blanket lifetime limitation. Which was after all what the OP was asking for. $\endgroup$ – slebetman May 21 '15 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ Your link to the FAA is the registration, not an airworthiness certificate $\endgroup$ – Steve Kuo Apr 27 '16 at 15:52
6
$\begingroup$

Aircraft hulls are limited in the wear and tear they can withstand due to metal fatigue that can develop (pressurized aircraft more than non-pressurized).

The manufacturer will impose limits on the flight time of the hull (an older airframe will be considered not airworthy) so any developing metal fatigue will not tear apart the plane in flight like what happened with the Comet or Aloha Airlines flight 243.

tl;dr it's the responsibility of the manufacturer to impose limits on the airframe age.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The limit is not flight time, but always flight cycles. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 13 '15 at 14:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JanHudec expressed in flight hours usually, it's that aloha flight that made it clear the amount of cycles is the more important factor $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Jan 13 '15 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ And this doesn't answer the question of regulatory age. Any airframe, regardless of age, that is not airworthy is, well not airworthy $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 13 '15 at 15:50
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @JanHudec The limit is not always expressed in flight cycles, though that's often what they're trying to capture in an "hours" limit. For pressurized aircraft I've never seen one that doesn't list a cycle limit, but non-pressurized aircraft often have service limits expressed in hours (flight time) without a corresponding cycles limit. The wing life limits on Grumman's AA1 & AA5, Piper's Tomahawk, and the Cirrus SR20 & SR22 all fit that description. $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 13 '15 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ @voretaq7: True; I had pressurized aircraft in mind. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 13 '15 at 18:17
5
$\begingroup$

According to Wikipedia the DC-3 first flew in 1935, entered regular passenger service in 1936, and as of 2012 #10 off the production line was still in regular commercial service. I'd venture to say it's got more to do with maintenance than regulation. (I'm sure someone will quote the appropriate FAR section in a few minutes.)

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ The DC-3 doesn't have a pressurized cabin, though, right? $\endgroup$ – reirab Jan 13 '15 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ With a service ceiling of 23,200 ft, I don't think it does. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Jan 13 '15 at 17:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @reirab The real difference between GA/airliner is in the hours of operation per year. Typical GA aircraft has MUCH less use per year, so pressurized or not, there's less wear and tear on the structure (although it continues to be exposed to corrosion). A general rule of thumb for GA aircraft is when you get around 10,000 hours on the airframe it's time to replace/major overhaul even if no corrosion is found in routine inspections. $\endgroup$ – Brian Knoblauch Jan 13 '15 at 19:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @reirab No, you're thinking of the KC-10. The KC-135's production started in 1955, its first flight was in 1956, it was introduced into service in 1957, and its production ended in 1965 (none are newer than that). It actually predates the 707 (it's not based on the 707, both are based on the 367-80). $\endgroup$ – cpast Jan 13 '15 at 19:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @cpast You're right. My bad. I looked at the KC-135 first and got sidetracked looking at the KC-10 and forgot I still had its page up when I grabbed the number. - haha $\endgroup$ – reirab Jan 13 '15 at 20:31
3
$\begingroup$

As a general statement aircraft are pretty well-built (in fact, they are generally overbuilt so they'll hold up to use and abuse in excess of their stated design tolerances), and carefully maintained. As such there is generally no regulatory restriction on airframe age, though there may be other applicable restrictions (or recommendations) depending on the aircraft.

The most common restriction you'll encounter that's similar to what you're asking about is what are known as "life-limited parts" - Aircraft components that have a finite limit (expressed in flight hours, flight cycles, or calendar time), after which they must be replaced or overhauled.
These limitations are usually given by the manufacturer (in a Limitations section of the POH/AFM or Maintenance Manual, which has regulatory effect under FAA rules).

In some cases an entire airframe may be life-limited: (The R22 helicopter has both a calendar and hours limit, and commercial airliners typically have a flight cycle and flight hour limitation on the airframe as well.
In other cases only a component may be life-limited: The wings on a Grumman Tiger or a Piper Tomahawk must be replaced after a certain number of flight hours.


Even in absence of a specific limitation it's important to recognize that all airframes have a finite life - components will eventually suffer fatigue and fail, as with any kind of mechanical equipment. Manufacturers may recommend extensive inspections of older aircraft to ensure that fatigue is detected before the structure fails. (For example, while the Piper Cherokee family has no Limitations published Piper does recommend extensive inspections on aircraft that have accumulated a large amount of flight time.)

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.