The fleet of idle jet airliners, which had soared to more than 2,100 aircraft after the traffic collapse following the 11 September terrorist attacks, has begun to shrink.

According to UK consultancy Airclaims, the idle fleet peaked in May at around 2,150 aircraft and the total has now dropped to below 2,100. The fall in numbers is due to a combination of factors, with aircraft returning to service or broken for spares in greater numbers than those being removed from service.

Data compiled from the Airclaims CASE database shows that during the first six months of this year, the idle fleet dropped by a net total of 43 aircraft to 2,094 aircraft. At the same time at least 140 aircraft have been permanently withdrawn (scrapped). The three oldest types operated in large numbers - the Boeing 727, Boeing 737-100/200 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9 - still dominate the idle fleet, accounting for almost 50% of the total.

"The number of stored passenger aircraft is still close to 1,600 units, but this is stabilising through a combination of increased permanent retirements and some placements, which have countered the continued addition of aircraft to the inventory," says Airclaims director of consultancy Edward Pieniazek. "For example, 65 jet airliners have gone into store so far this month, but 83 came out."

Pieniazek says that he expects the vast majority of the approximately 1,500 older narrowbodies (for instance 727s, 737-200s and DC-9s) and first generation widebodies (such as Boeing 747 Classics, Lockheed L-1011 TriStars and McDonnell Douglas DC-10s) that are stored will not return in large numbers to the marketplace. "The effective stored fleet surplus to the current market but available to future markets is closer to 600 units," he says.

Source: Flight International