Farewell to the Storied MD-80, Almost: You Have Served us Long and Well
American Airlines to retire the last of their once vast MD-80 fleet on September 4th, in a flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Chicago O’Hare. Then, it is off to the boneyard in Roswell New Mexico.
Conceived as a stretched version of McDonnell Douglas’ successful DC-9 aircraft, the MD-80 was christened the DC-9 Super 80. The MD-80 provided airlines with a short and medium haul aircraft and was adopted by more than fifty airlines worldwide. For decades, the aircraft served as a workhorse for American and Delta Airlines. According to American Airlines, their MD-80 fleet peaked at over 350 aircraft following their 2001 merger with TWA, also an MD-80 customer.
A 1999 press release from Boeing explains that the final MD-80 derivative, an MD-83, was delivered to TWA on December 21, 1999. At just 18 years old, that aircraft would now be the youngest MD-80 in the world, where the average age is around 27. In a ceremony attended by over 1,000 employees at Boeing’s Long Beach California plant, Mayor Beverly O’Neill christened the aircraft “Spirit of Long Beach.” The Long Beach plant was the longtime home of McDonnell Douglas, which was merged with Boeing in 1997. The final MD-83 was painted in TWA’s final livery and powered by P&W JT8D-219 engines. One of the most successful aircraft programs in commercial aviation, a total of 1,191 were delivered between 1979-1999, with the first aircraft delivered to Swissair in 1980. The “Super 80” has been in the American Airlines fleet since 1983.
In addition to increased maintenance costs associated with older aircraft, by today’s standards the MD-80 is considered fuel-inefficient and noisy. The venerable old aircraft made headlines after an April 2018 exposé by 60 Minutes, highlighting safety concerns at Allegiant Airlines. Allegiant retired their last MD-80 in November 2018, and now has an entire Airbus A319/320 fleet. Second hand MD-80s played an instrumental role in the startup operations of both Allegiant and Spirit Airlines. While American is retiring their final MD-80 on September 4th, passengers will still be able to fly the type on Delta until 2021. Delta still has around 70 MD-88’s and 33 MD-90s (a later derivative), which will be phased out by 2021. Although they will largely leave U.S. skies at that time, aging MD-80's will continue to fly with airlines throughout the world with scheduled and charter services.
Source(s): Boeing, American Airlines