by Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, August 25, 2017
Would you feel uneasy about flying on a plane built in 1970? Harold Wilson was enjoying his first stint at Number 10, George Best was in his free-scoring pomp, and man's first small step on the surface of the moon was still fresh in the memory.
And 1970 was also the year that a Boeing 737-200, with the serial number 20335, made its maiden flight for Air California.
Almost 50 years on, Air California has long since folded, Harold Wilson and Bestie have shuffled off this mortal coil, and Nasa is hoping to start a colony on Mars. But 20335 is still going strong in the services of Airfast Indonesia, under the registration PK-OCG.
Its journey from Orange County to Jakarta has been a circuitous one. It had a couple of stints in Hawaii with Aloha Airlines, spent two years with Ohio-based PSA, six months with now-defunct Dallas outfit Braniff, and even enjoyed a spell with behemoth American Airlines.
Since 1991, however, it has been in the services of tiny Airfast Indonesia, based in the city of Tangerang, which serves around a dozen domestic destinations, including Jakarta, Surabaya and Denpasar. At 47 years, it is, as far as our research can judge, the world's oldest passenger plane still in service.
So would you feel safe on board? The issue of the reliability of elderly aircraft was raised earlier this summer when a 31-year-old Jet2 plane, also a 737, made two emergency landings in as many weeks .
Passengers were never at risk, Jet2 said, but commentators were quick to point out the age of the aircraft. Registered as G-CELI, it was manufactured in 1986 for Lufthansa, making it almost as old as this reporter. But are older planes really more likely to go wrong?
Not according to Patrick Smith, a US pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential.
“Commercial aircraft are built to last more or less indefinitely, which is one of the reasons why they’re so expensive,” he told Telegraph Travel.
“It’s common for a jet to remain in service for 25 years or more.”
Smith claims that as planes get older they come under ever greater scrutiny. “Inspection criteria grow increasingly strict,” he said.
Indonesian airlines have something of a chequered recent history. Since 2001, there have been at least 45 air accidents on Indonesian soil that resulted in fatalities (by comparison, there have been just six on UK soil during that time – all involving small jets with fewer than six individuals on board).
Due to lingering safety concerns, 55 of the country's airlines are currently banned from EU airspace. However, Airfast Indonesia is one of seven that are permitted to enter.
Even still, it's extremely rare to maintain such a venerable aircraft. According to the aviation database Airfleets.net, of the hundreds of planes rolled out in 1970, only one other hasn't since been scrapped, written off or placed in storage. That jet, a 747, is used by the Iran Air Force.
The second oldest jet still in the service of a commercial airline is ZS-IJJ, a 737 registered to Johannesburg-based Interair South Africa.
It was built in 1972 for Cameroon Airlines (now defunct). Almost all of the most elderly aircraft still being flown belong to small airlines in far-flung places.
Kenya's Transafrican Air has a 42-year-old 737; Venezolana, a low-cost Venezuelan carrier, has a 39-year-old of the same model; Iran's Saha Airlines possesses a 40-year-old 747; Caspian Airlines, its local rival, has a 39-year-old jumbo jet.
In all likelihood you haven't flown with any of these minnows, but step a little closer to the modern day and the big boys soon start cropping up.
Of the major players, Delta, American Airlines and British Airways have some of the oldest fleets.
Delta, whose 860 aircraft have an average age of 17 years, has a 30-year-old 757, and a clutch of 30-year-old McDonnell Douglas MD-80s. American also possessses plenty of MD-80s, the oldest of which was delivered in 1986. BA's oldest aircraft is a 747, registration G-BNLK, which it received on May 4, 1990 – a couple of months before the England football team's World Cup heroics. No UK airline is using older planes than Jet2, however.
So have you flown on any of these esteemed birds? It's easy to find out, thanks to the tracking website FlightRadar24.
G-BNLK, BA's most stately jumbo, will carry passengers from Johannesburg to Heathrow tonight. Tomorrow morning it will fly to Chicago before returning to London on Saturday night.
The oldest plane in the American Airlines fleet, a 31-year-old MD-80 registered as N424AA, will be flying between Denver and Chicago today.
Delta's oldest aircraft, registration N904DL, is currently flying in and out of Atlanta.
And what of Jet2's G-CELI, which was involved in two emergency landings last month? It isn't currently being used, according to FlightRadar24 – presumably while maintenance takes place. Jet2 has an older plane in its fleet, however: G-CELH. It was born one week before G-CELI (02/10/1986), making it the oldest plane used by any UK airline. And it's about to land in Girona, carrying passengers from Edinburgh. The return journey departs at 12.15pm.