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.
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.
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.
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.
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?