We have a few interesting questions about the normal ways aircraft end their lives. What about simulators? How long do they typically last? What is the typical reason for retirement?

I am particularly asking about high level simulators used for airliner type ratings.

This question was inspired by discussion of the time taken to reboot a simulator: Do Flight Simulation Instructors stop the simulator before a simulated crash?

Related questions:

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Have any advanced simulators outlived the aircraft model they simulate? Perhaps they can still be operated for a profit if people will pay for simulated time for fun? I remember seeing the simulator company near me advertising simulator time to non-pilots. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2021 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ I would assume that simulators are so expensive to operate that if they are ever phased out for reasons other than being worn out (and not being sold), it would still be too expensive for people to do just for fun. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2021 at 8:49
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    $\begingroup$ @AnonymousPhysicist, Well, the 737-200 isn't totally retired, but it is extremely rare, and the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta has a sim for it that's open to the public. Worth every penny :D $\endgroup$
    – zymhan
    May 25, 2021 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ Concorde simulator is still preserved in Brooklands museum. FFS are designed for a life of more than 20 years. Over the life there may be software or hardware updates. When the simulator of an old aircraft is decommissioned the parts may be thrown away and you can find them on marketplaces on the internet. It's nothing special from an airline point of view: just a big thing that is used for training $\endgroup$
    – Afe
    May 25, 2021 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ B-52 flight simulators (Weapon System Trainers, a very cool full flight simulator that could integrate with the tanker flight simulators) weren't new when I worked on them in the mid 80s. They were still being used in 2014. And may still be. minot.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/806529/… $\endgroup$ May 26, 2021 at 1:02

2 Answers 2


As long as it's maintained, and replacement parts are available, there is no limit. Although maintenance could end up costing more than the simulator itself:

CAE says the Series 5000 will offer a 25% reduction in lifecycle costs, which tend to be two to three times the original cost of the simulator during a 20-year lifetime (...)

flightglobal.com, 2008

The 20-year lifetime mentioned above is what would a training center expect, as that's typically how long an airliner model stays in service in sufficient numbers to promise a continued demand.

Delta Flight Museum still operates a full-motion 737-200 simulator (Delta introduced that model in 1983, almost 40 years ago).


Lifespan of a Level D simulator is: as long as the maintenance costs are justified.

enter image description hereImage source

Maintenance costs of a simulator is according a typical bathtub curve, with the right side of the curve forever climbing up and up. Like with operating and maintaining an old-timer car, as long as spare parts can be purchased it is only a matter of justifying the costs.

New Full Flight Simulators are produced for new aircraft types. As long as an old aircraft type is still flying, there will be pilots that need to be trained on a Level D simulator constructed decades ago. There will be fewer and fewer of the old type simulators around, so training on an oldie may be very expensive indeed.

But spare part availability is the key. The real-time computers, I/O systems and analog electronics of the early 90s are really hard to find nowadays. But even then there is a solution: replace the old simulator sub-systems with modern ones. Host computer, visual, motion, control loading, audio, I/O, Instructor Operator System, weather radar...Not a cheap option, by the time all relevant systems are replaced the upgrade costs are higher than that of a newly constructed sim. But the costs can be spread over several years, with only the most pressing ones tackled year-by-year.

I know of several Level D sims constructed in the early 90s that are still in operation. Indeed the B737-200 in the museum mentioned by @ymb1, there is also one in Jakarta operated by Sriwijaya.

We're upgrading an 1993 Level D sim at the moment. Almost 30 years old, targeted future use of over two decades...


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