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The debate over aircraft

The plane crash in Cuba, which involved a Mexican airline, is an opportunity to open the debate on the useful life of airplanes
The debate over aircraft
Airplanes – Photo: Tanya Guerrero/EL UNIVERSAL
28/05/2018
08:58
Mexico City
Newspaper Leader by EL UNIVERSAL
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Tragedies always teach us bitter lessons. This is what happened after the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City and the San Juanico tank farm explosion in 1984. After the earthquake, more rigorous construction standards were devised and after the explosion, no more urban settlements were allowed to be built close to gas distribution centers

Ten days ago, a plane crashed in Cuba, shortly after takeoff, killing 111 thus far. The 39-year old aircraft belonged to a Mexican company and met all aeronautical conditions. In November 2017 it had passed the annual inspection performed by the Civil Aeronautics General Management Department, a branching office of the Ministry of Communications and Transports.

Is 39 too old for a passenger plane? EL UNIVERSAL has consulted several experts and authorities to find an answer to this question and results are published today.

For Mexican authorities, any aircraft can remain operational as long as it fulfills its maintenance programme and meets all the directives set by aeronautical authorities. Civil Aeronautics state that according to international practices, there is no regulation or recommendation in Mexico preventing or establishing a limit on the age of an aircraft.

However, experts claim the useful life of a plane is 20 years or 50,000 flight hours; from that moment and on, they consider the plane will experience “fatigue” and require greater maintenance to operate with reliability. The older an aircraft gets, the more it is recommended to be used as a transport aircraft, not as a passenger one.

In the country, there is probably no other plane which receives as continues and strict maintenance as the air transport of Mexico's President – and despite this, it had a useful life of 28 years, from 1987 to 2015. The one which replaced it has a life expectancy of 25 years.

Airplanes from the most renowned commercial airlines have average useful lives below 20 years but there are other, smaller companies whose fleet has an average useful life well above that recommended by experts.

In 2016, the Lower Chamber received a bill to modify the Civil Aviation Law to prevent aircrafts older than 20 years from being used as passenger planes. The bill didn't pass.

The accident in Cuba involved a Mexican airline and this, in turn, became the opportunity to open a debate on the subject. Currently, most Mexican airlines have young fleets. It's time to push for a change and ensure the safety of passengers traveling by air. The millions of people who fly each year will be thankful for this.

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