Reviewing 2020 Aircraft Retirements

So, how many air transport aircraft retired in 2020? Thousands? Nope. 2020 did not yield the thousands of retirements that had been feared. Though the final tally will be subject to revision in the coming months, so far, ~681 aircraft retired in 2020. Some aircraft shown as parked/stored will likely already have been retired.

This was similar to 2019 and above the 20 year average of ~620 retirements per year. As a % of the active fleet, retirements have typically hovered between 1.7% and 3.4%. The average has been 2.5%. The rate in 2020 was 3.1%. Retirements will increase further in the coming years.

In 2020, the average retirement age was ~23 years. There were, of course, exceptions to this, and many of the aircraft retired had a long and successful life with airlines and were already due for retirement (e.g., MD80s, 744s). The A320ceo saw ~146 retirements with an average retirement age of 21years. The 737NG saw 46 retirements and an average retirement age of 18 years. The Embraer E-Jet saw ~12 aircraft retire with a low average age of just 12 years. The A340-500/600, a victim of the preference for more fuel-efficient twin-engine aircraft, saw 34 aircraft retire with an average age of just 14 years.

Norwegian Air Shuttle Fights for Survival

On the 14th of January, Norwegian Air Shuttle announced plans to focus on short-haul flying and abandon long-haul. Norwegian’s quest for profitability long preceded COVID-19.

The restructuring plan calls for 50 narrowbodies in 2021, rising to 70 in 2022. That’s less than 50% of its 2019 fleet.

Though Norwegian was founded in 1993, it wasn’t until the late-2000s that ambitions to become a sizeable low-cost carrier emerged. Large orders for 737NGs, 737MAX, 787s, and A320neos heralded a period of rapid expansion and entry into long-haul low-cost – a market that has tantalized industry watchers for decades yet has shown itself to be an easy way of losing large amounts of money.

Norwegian’s 787s, powered by RR Trent 1000s, peaked at 37 aircraft and the overall fleet peaked in 2019 with 166 aircraft. The airline was an early adopter of Boeing’s GoldCare MRO service, leading Boeing to construct a hangar at London Gatwick. Norwegian canceled the GoldCare agreement in 2020.

The resizing is clearly vital given the COVID-19 situation and reduced long-haul demand. However, the changes result in ~30 787s (average age 3.7 years) and ~40 surplus 737s (average age 6.6 years) looking for new homes and orders for ~180 aircraft (~92 737MAX and ~88 A320neo) presumably under review.