Retirement Wave Still Not Apparent, Analysis Shows

Cathay Pacific 777-300
Credit: Joe Pries

An expected surge in air transport retirements driven by reduced demand is still not underway, with about 200 airframes booked as permanently removed from the global fleet through the first five months of 2021, a preliminary analysis by Naveo Consultancy shows.

“Most of the aircraft retired in 2020 and so far in 2021 were already slated for retirement,” Naveo MD Richard Brown wrote in an analysis released June 24.

Naveo’s analysis of Aviation Week Fleet Discovery data showed that total retirements in 2020 were about 665. This is about 10 units below 2019’s total, and 61 more than the 20-year average of 604 per year.

“As a percentage of the active fleet, retirements have typically hovered between 1.7% and 3.4%,” Brown wrote. “The average has been 2.5%.” Last year’s rate was 2.6%, he added.

A model-by-model breakdown shows Airbus A320ceo-family aircraft as the most retired type both in 2020 and so far in 2021, with 148 and 49 units leaving the fleet, respectively. Boeing 737 Next Generation models are not far behind, with 43 2020 retirements and 37 so far in 2021. 

The surge of four-engine aircraft removals at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the 62 747-400s retired in 2020 made the Boeing widebody the second-most removed type in 2020. Only seven have been parked in 2021.

Tracking retirements is challenging, due in part to time gaps between when an airframe stops operating and when it is officially recorded as being permanently out of service. The low number of retirements since the pandemic began and demand hit historic lows suggests that many operators remain in a wait-and-see mode, eyeing variables such as the pace of traffic recovery and prices for used aircraft destined for part-out.

Naveo’s analysis showed 66% of the global commercial fleet was active and flying regularly in early June, or about 22,400 aircraft. The 34% in the parked/stored category includes 6%, or nearly 2,000 aircraft, in a parked/reserve status, meaning they had flown one or two days in the previous seven-day period.

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.