42 Years And Counting: Which Airlines Still Fly The MD-80?

The McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series is one of the most widely produced rear-engined airliner families in aviation history. Yesterday marked the 42nd anniversary of the type’s first flight, which took place on October 18th, 1979. Despite the type’s age, it remains relatively widespread in terms of active examples. Let’s take a look at where you can find these.

MD-80 Sunset Getty
McDonnell Douglas produced the MD-80 family between 1979 and 1999. Photo: Getty Images

The MD-80 family in a nutshell

Across two decades of production, McDonnell Douglas built nearly 1,200 aircraft from its MD-80 family. This airliner series was diverse, and it offered different models for different purposes. McDonnell Douglas produced the following five different variants.

  • MD-81 – Original production version.
  • MD-82 – More powerful engines for ‘hot and high’ operations.
  • MD-83 – Increased fuel capacity for longer-range operations.
  • MD-87 – Short fuselage variant.
  • MD-88 – Features electronic instead of analog instruments.

The MD-80 was developed from McDonnell Douglas’s DC-9 series, with which it shares its twinjet rear-engined configuration. Owing to the timing of its launch, the family’s main rivals were aircraft from the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 Classic families. While production ended 22 years ago, you can still find the type at a diverse range of carriers today.

DHL DC-9 Getty
Apart from the MD-87, MD-80 aircraft are longer than DC-9 (pictured) models. Photo: Getty Images

The largest operator

According to data from ch-aviation.com, there are still nearly 100 active examples of the MD-80 family left in the world today. As is common with aging aircraft, some of these have been converted for use as freighters. Among these are those belonging to Mexican carrier Aeronaves TSM, which even also still flies planes from the older DC-9 family.

In terms of Aeronaves TSM’s MD-80 models, the carrier flies four converted MD-82SFs. These have an average age of 32 years old, and joined the airline between 2013 and 2018. Before flying for Aeronaves TSM, they also served Alitalia and US Airways.

However, the Mexican carrier’s most numerous design is the MD-83SF, of which it has 10 active examples. These aircraft are slightly younger, clocking in at 30 years old on average. Prior to their time at Aeronaves TSM, they flew for the likes of American Airlines, Avianca, Trans World Airlines (TWA), and US Airways. The first example joined in 2014.

USA Jet Airlines MD-83
USA Jet Airlines flies a single cargo-configured MD-83. Photo: Eric Salard via Flickr

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Other non-passenger carriers

Aeronaves TSM isn’t the only current MD-80 family operator to deploy the type as a cargo aircraft. Indeed, Everts Air Cargo also flies four active examples of the MD-83SF. This carrier is known for having a classic fleet, and, at 28.9 years old on average, its ‘Mad Dogs’ are actually among its younger aircraft. Like Aeronaves, Everts also flies the DC-9.

On a smaller scale, USA Jet Airlines has a single active MD-83SF. As seen in the photograph above, it ears the registration N831US. Clocking in at 32 years old, it previously flew for AeroCancún, Oasis International Airlines, and Spanair.

Erickson Air Tanker MD-87
Erickson Air Tanker deploys the MD-87 on firefighting missions. Photo: Glenn Beltz via Flickr

Of course, flying cargo isn’t the only purpose for which non-passenger carriers can utilize the MD-80 family. Indeed, Hillsboro, Oregon is home to Erickson Aero Tanker, which uses its six active MD-87Ts in the domain of aerial firefighting. The operator states that this short-fuselage rear-engined twinjet is “the most versatile fire bomber available.”

Iran: an MD-80 hotspot for passengers

Moving onto the use of the MD-80 family in the passenger-carrying sector, Iran is the place to go if you’re after a ride on one. As Simple Flying explored in August, the series accounts for more than 40% of the country’s domestic capacity. But with which airlines?

The largest MD-80 family operator in Iran (in terms of active examples of the series) is ATA Airlines. This carrier’s fleet features six active MD-83s, which have an average age of 26.4 years old. Iran Airtour Airlines is close behind ith a five-strong active MD-80 family fleet. Four of these aircraft are MD-82s, with the fifth being a 27.2-year-old MD-83.

ATA Airlines MD-83
ATA Airlines is Iran’s largest passenger-carrying MD-80 family operator. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Flickr

Another Iranian operator with five active MD-80 aircraft is Kish Airlines. This carrier’s fleet includes three active MD-82s, supplemented by a further two MD-83s. Moving down in terms of fleet size by one aircraft, you can find four active MD-83s at Caspian Airlines. These are relatively young at 26.5 years old on average, and joined between 2012 and 2017.

Meanwhile, two Iranian carriers fly three active MD-80 family jets apiece. Taban Air has a single MD-83 on its books, as well as being a rare operator of two examples of the MD-88. Being a more modern iteration, these are just 24.5 years old on average. Finally, Zagros Airlines flies two active examples of the MD-83, alongside a single 32.6-year-old MD-82.

Kish Airlines MD-82
The presence of the MD-80 family at carriers like Kish Air has seen the type command a strong domestic market share in Iran. Photo: Alan Wilson via Flickr

Significant MD-80 operators elsewhere

The popularity and versatility of the MD-80 family have seen it used all over the world. Even today, its geographical spread remains significant, despite the number of active examples having now dipped below the 100 mark. Let’s conclude by taking a look at some of the largest active MD-80 family fleets that operate elsewhere in the world.

Starting in Bulgaria, European Air Charter presently has six active MD-82s in its fleet. This airline was known as Bulgarian Air Charter until May this year, and its Mad Dogs are 29.7 years old on average. This is exactly the same average age as its Airbus A320s.

Bulgarian Air Charter MD-82
European Air Charter’s MD-82s seat 164 economy passengers. Photo: Jake Hardiman | Simple Flying

You can also find a six-strong active MD-80 family fleet at Laser Airlines. This Venezuelan operator flies three MD-82s, two MD-83s, and even a single MD-81. According to ch-aviation’s data, the only other active MD-81 left belongs to Olympia Aviation.

There remains a wide selection of smaller fleets, but let’s end by touching upon the US’s largest active passenger MD-80 operator. Based in Miami, Florida, charter carrier World Atlantic Airlines has five active MD-83s at its disposal. These aircraft are 30.2 years old on average, and seat between 146 and 155 passengers, depending on their exact configuration.

What do you make of the MD-80 family? Have you ever flown on one at one of these airlines? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!