These 2 countries have world's newest commercial planes, but are they the safest?

These 2 countries have world's newest commercial planes, but are they the safest?
PHOTO: Superjet International
W.T.M. Why This Matters
The issue of a plane's reliability due to its age surfaced recently when two Jet2 planes made emergency landings in Barcelona and Frankfurt in July. Some observers noted that the planes were made about 20 years ago, but aviation experts stressed that commercial planes are designed to fly for 25 years or more.

This might come as a surprise to many - three major airlines from Russia and China have, enviably, the world's newer and more efficient aircraft even though the two countries are not known to have a long record in sophisticated modern travel.

Aeroflot, one of the oldest airlines in the world with a history that goes back to the 1920s, boasts the youngest planes with an average age of just 4.2 years. Its newest planes are the Russian-made Sukhoi SuperJet-100 designed to optimise performance.

Once the dowdy national carrier of the Soviet Union, Aeroflot is now the de facto national airline of Russia. In recent years, the semi-private Aeroflot group has embarked on modernisation which will see the more efficient state-of-the-art MS-21 planes by Russia's Irkut Corporation joining the fleet next.

Photo: Aeroflot


TWO CHINESE AIRLINES BOAST MODERN FLEET

Neighbouring communist giant China has also caught up with the times with acquisition of modern sleek aircraft

Established in 1989, its Hainan Airlines has the world's second youngest fleet, averaging 4.9 years. Among its newer planes are the Boeing 747 Dreamliners. Trailing in third place is China Eastern Airlines whose planes average 5.3 years.

Photo: Hainan Airlines

Four Middle-Eastern airlines - Emirates, Saudi Arabian, Qatar and Etihad  - are the next group to have newer planes with ages averaging from 5.4 to 6.1 years.

The figures are culled from airfleets.net, a website which monitors most of the major airlines in the world. 

DOES AGE MATTER?

The issue of a plane's reliability due to its age surfaced recently when two Jet2 planes made emergency landings in Barcelona and Frankfurt in July.

Observers highlighted the fact that the planes were made about 20 years ago although passenger safety was not affected in both incidents.

China Eastern attendants in an aircraft simulator in Shanghai.Photo: China Daily

But are older planes really likely to go wonky?

Not so, according to US pilot Patrick Smith, author of Cockpit Confidential, who told The Telegraph that it's common for a commercial jet to fly for 25 years or more.

And it doesn't guarantee that newer planes are automatically the safest as aviation safety depend on many other factors.

Our checks show that Aeroflot is not among the top 20 in the lists of the world's safest airlines curated by two ranking bodies - AirlinesRatings.com and Germany's Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC) even though its fleet boasts many highly efficient planes.

While JACDEC ranked Hainan Airlines third for safety, it's not in AirlinesRatings' top 20 list. China Eastern is not on either list.


HOW SAFE ARE AIRLINES WITH MATURE PLANES?

Photo: Delta Airlines

As for the airline with the oldest planes, Delta Airlines has the most, with an average age of 17 years. Greying next is Air Canada (14.2 years), followed closely by United Airlines (14.1 years).

Where safety is concerned, Delta has performed rather well at sixth spot on AirlinesRatings and 15th on JACDEC. Air Canada is ranked one spot below on the same list while United is positioned at 17th by AirlinesRatings.

WHERE DOES SINGAPORE AIRLINES STAND?

Photo: Singapore Airlines

How does Singapore Airlines (SIA), arguably one of the world's top airlines, fare in terms of age and safety?

Placed at 13th position, the national carrier operates a fleet with an average age of 8.1 years - neither young nor mature. As for safety, it's ranked 15th by AirlinesRatings.

But fans might scowl in disbelief at JACDEC grading, which dumped it at 32nd spot, one level better than China Eastern but behind United (31st) and AirAsia (29th).

Anyway, travellers can look forward to more efficiency and comfort as SIA will, reportedly, add five new super-jumbo Airbus A-380s from October. It will also retrofit the seating in all classes of its existing fleet of 19 A-380s and boost their in-flight entertainment in the coming years.

SIA's senior vice-president (product and services) Marvin Tan had told staff in a newsletter that apart from the A-380 upgrade, the airline has more plans to keep the group stay "ahead of the pack in a highly competitive airline operating landscape".

chenj@sph.com.sg

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