What happens to a plane when an airline retires it?

Answers to your questions about the news.
June 4 2008 6:14 PM

Jumbo Jet for Sale

What happens to a plane when an airline retires it?

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

United Airlines announced Wednesday that it will remove 100 jets from its fleet, including all 94 of its Boeing 737s, a popular single-aisle jet. What do airlines do with planes they don't need anymore?

They sell them or send them to the desert. An airline might be able to sell off an older model like the 737 to smaller overseas carriers who are trying to upgrade and expand their fleets. In recent years, former Soviet Bloc countries and parts of Asia have been the most avid buyers of used aircraft from the United States. While a few domestic startup airlines have also purchased aircraft from larger carriers, these sales make up a small fraction of the total.

Advertisement

To put a plane on the market, a carrier typically advertises in an industry newsletter like SpeedNews or Jetmark. United won't be responsible for selling all of its retired planes, though, because it may not own all of them—about a third of all commercial planes are leased by the carrier. Any loaners will be returned to their owners and then presumably sold or leased out to another company.

If a plane is sold to another carrier immediately, it's likely to go straight to a maintenance facility where it will be refurbished for its new owner. Otherwise, the airline flies it to a storage facility somewhere in the southwestern United States, where it's parked until it gets sold, cannibalized for spare parts, or converted into a cargo plane.

Unused and unsold commercial jets often end up at the Mojave Air and Space Port, a storage facility—or "boneyard"—for defunct aircraft in Southern California. The dry desert climate is ideal for preventing corrosion, and the hard soil can support heavy loads. The area does have its hazards, though: One aircraft remarketing consultant told the Explainer that, years ago, some MD-80 jets in storage in the Mojave Desert sank into the mud during a strong rainstorm and then baked in place in the next day's sun.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer Bob McAdoo of Avondale Partners, John Mowry of SH&E, and Pete Seidlitz of Bristol Associates.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?