30 Years Plus: Australia’s Oldest Active Commercial Aircraft

When boarding a flight, most passengers don’t think about the age of the plane. They simply assume the plane is well-maintained, safe, and skillfully piloted. With more than 60 commercial aircraft more than 30 years old still flying around Australia, age can be no barrier to staying in the air.

Skytrans boasts Australia’s oldest plane still flying commercial services. Photo: Skytrans

The oldest plane still operating commercial flights in Australia is 37 plus years

Who is flying planes this old? It’s a mixture of familiar and not-so-familiar names. Regional Express (Rex), Alliance Airlines, Skippers Aviation, Cobham, Skytrans, Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA), Maroomba Airlines, and Airnorth all have aircraft more than three decades old.

Several other airlines with planes over 30 years old, including Air South, GAMair, and Pel-Air, and Hevilift, offer passenger charter services rather than regularly scheduled flights.

According to aircraft database ch-aviation.com, the oldest aircraft in Australia flying scheduled passenger flights is VH-QQB, a 37 and a half-year-old De Havilland Dash 8-100 belonging to Cairns-based Skytrans Airlines. On Tuesday, VH-QQB is operating what appears to be a fly-in-fly-out service from Townsville to Doongmabulla.

Skytrans, which focuses on services into the Torres Strait and Gulf country, operates several aircraft more than 30 years old, including VH-QQF (36 plus years), VH-QQG (35 plus years), VH-QQI (33 plus years), and VH-QQC (30 plus years).

Aircraft belonging to charter companies make up the bulk of the ten oldest planes still providing commercial services in Australia. Charter operators making the top ten list include Brisbane-based GAMair and Pel-Air (a subsidiary of Rex).

Brisbane-based Alliance Airlines has several Fokker jets more than 30 years old. Photo: Alliance Airlines

Some well-known and not so well-known names flying aging aircraft

Lurking at the tail end of the top ten list is VH-XFT, a 35-year-old De Havilland Dash 8-100 belonging to Perth-based Skippers Aviation. That plane operated a Perth-Leonora-Perth service on Monday.

Skippers also have an Embraer 120 Brasilia (VH-XUE) that is 32 and a half years old and VH-XFQ, a De Havilland Dash 8-10 that is a shade over 30 years old.

Brisbane-based Alliance Airlines is well-known for being the world’s biggest operator of Fokker aircraft. Fokker went bankrupt in 1996, so even the youngest plane out of their factory is at least 25 years old. We count 13 Fokkers at Alliance aged 30 years or more, but over half of that number are just over 30 years and barely making our list.

Regional Express (Rex), which frequently gets a mention on Simple Flying, flies a fleet of Saab 340s around regional Australia, some of which are starting to clock up 30 years plus of flying. Rex’s oldest plane is VH-YRX which operated an Albury – Sydney flight on Tuesday morning. VH-YRX is nearly 32 years old.

A further half dozen Rex 340s are more than 30 years old. Several aircraft at Rex charter subsidiary Pel-Air are also more than 30 years old, including VH-KDK, another Saab 340 that is nearly 37 years old. VH-KDK flew between Mackay and Brisbane on Monday.

Rex has seven Saab 340s more than 30 years old. Photo: Andrew Curran/Simple Flying

Older aircraft can be the gift that keeps on giving

A suite of Fokkers belonging to Virgin Australian Regional Airlines (VARA) are also more than three decades old. Formerly known as Skywest, VARA operates fly-in-fly-out services, charters, and regular passenger flights out of its Perth base.

VARA’s oldest plane is a Fokker 100 jet. VH-FWH is just over 31 years old. The airline has a further three aircraft aged more than 30 years.

We want to stress having an old plane isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A well-maintained plane is a gift that keeps on giving. Many of the carriers mentioned are smaller airlines that need to keep capital costs down, and new planes absorb valuable financial and operational resources.

It is also worth noting that some big-name airlines also have planes that are more than 30 years old still in the air. United Airlines has half a dozen Boeings more than three decades old, and Lufthansa has a handful of Airbus A320s over 30 years old. These small airlines buzzing around regional Australia in old planes are keeping some good company.