American Airlines MD-80 – A Complete History

American Airlines recently scheduled the final flights of their MD-80 fleet, with September 3rd and 4th signaling the end of the aircraft’s time with the American fleet. But how did American Airlines come to operate one of the largest MD-80 fleets and why did they decide to phase them out? Let’s explore. 

American Airlines MD-80 Retirement
American Airlines currently has just 28 MD-80s left flying. Photo: Eddie Maloney via Wikimedia

Why was the MD-80 built?

The MD-80 was originally envisioned as a lengthened and upgraded version of the MD-8. The twin-engined plane is able to carry 150 passengers to a range of 2,550 nmi (4,720 km) on average, although some versions had a more limited capacity and range. It was designed to be the perfect aircraft for feeder and regional routes, to operate out of airline hubs and facilitate travel to smaller airports that had a shorter runway.

MD-80
The different variants of the MD-80. Photo: Wikimedia

How did American Airlines come to have the aircraft?

American Airlines originally leased 20 MD-80s back in 1982 to replace their Boeing 727-100 fleet. According to data from AirFleets.net, the carrier has had 384 MD-80s in its fleet at different times throughout its history. However, the majority of these aircraft have long since left the AA fleet.

The aircraft was a game-changer for American Airlines. It was the first in their fleet to be operated by just two pilots and had unparalleled comfort and performance for the time.

American Airlines at the time had bold international routes (such as New York to London) and needed an aircraft to transport regional passengers from areas such as Boston, or Maine. Additionally, American Airlines deployed the aircraft as a cross-country workhorse to help facilitate regional travel outside the main networks, such as Dallas Fort Worth to Chicago.

MD-80
The business and economy cabin of an American Airlines MD-80. Photo: Wikimedia

Why did they retire them?

By 2019, the MD-80 was mega old for the typical aircraft. Originally leased by American Airlines in 1982, by today the series has a maximum age of 37 years old with some of the American Airlines active MD-80 fleet pushing 20 years.

The MD-80, also known as the Super 80, was the workhorse of the airline’s fleet throughout the 1980s and beyond, providing customers and team members with heartfelt memories on adventures ranging from family vacations to key business trips,the airline said in its press release.

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But as all older aircraft do, the MD-80 slowly found itself to be less fuel-efficient and no longer suited to the role that it was designed for. The MD-80 was easily beaten by other regional aircraft like the A320 series, the Boeing 737 MAX (which has caused a whole bunch of other problems for American Airlines) and the newer A220 series.

Additionally, American Airlines cannot ignore the cost-benefit of having fewer variants in their fleet, saving expensive pilot training, certification and maintenance costs.

American Airlines decided to swap out the MD-80 for a newer aircraft and scheduled the last few flights for the beginning of September, ending the long and lauded history of the American Airlines workhorse.

What do you think? Are you going to miss the MD-80?

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Albert Vitale

The MD80 was a stretch of the DC9 series 50 there was never an MD8 program. These basic errors make an otherwise decent publication painful to read and cost it basic believability.

The MD80 series including the Md 81/82/83/87/88 included a shortened version that fit between the dc9 50 and md82/82/83/88.

Basically the md 80 is the same type cert as the dc9 and the article could have referenced that as it is the true begining of the type. Ie series 10/15/30/50

Robert Krone

The MD80 was a stretch version of the 50 and only had 2 pilots so it was cheaper to operate than the 727, (100 or 200). I don’t know where you got the MD8 program info from, I never heard of that program. Also, the Boeing 717 was actually the MD 80 being shortened and reengined so it was called the 717 and when Boeing bought MD they kept it and just changed it to a B717, instead.

Dean Winters

The readers response is very accurate. In the 1970s I worked on the C-9 hospital ship in the USAF. A great aircraft which was the foundation for the MDs.

Pascal Fuster

I really hate to see the MD-80 leave the American fleet! Firstly, I think the Mad Dog has a somewhat good safety record (better than, for example, the A300 or the DC-10, my favorite airliner). Secondly, it doesn’t have a good replacement. The A320 has way more seating than the Super 80, and the A220 has less seating but a longer range, not the ideal replacement. Unless if Boeing or Airbus come out with a good replacement quickly, we’ll be stuck with Delta MDs for a few more years. I personally flew on an MD-80 on Delta from ATL to… Read more »

Charles Griffin

At the time of the AA MD-80 order AA did not have much in the way of long haul international service. DFW-LGW was probably the only TATL route. Not mentioned was that MDD made AA an offer they couldn’t refuse with virtual walk away leases on the initial batch of MD-80s. MDD needed to get a blue chip order for the then slow selling model. It worked.

Robert Krone

The deal that was made between AA and MD was that AA would lease a certain number of planes from MD to keep the production lines going. However, because the economy was still soft and AA didn’t want to be on the hook for a plane that they might not fly, the deal was that AA could walk away from the leases on the planes without having to pay for them. Basically a no fly, no pay arraignment. When AA started to take delivery of the planes it began a major expansion of the routes that AA would fly and… Read more »

Prodromos Prodromou

My personal opinion about MD80s series up to MD90 is a great aircraft personality I like the design and the engines at the back of the aircraft more noisy yes but great I love them all reminds a little the new crj900 and crj1000 made from bombardier