Airbus A220 vs McDonnell Douglas MD-80 – Which Aircraft Is Best?

Whilst airlines are proud to have the latest and greatest aircraft in their mainline fleet, such as Qatar who boasts no aircraft over 10 years old, many still have fleets of aging regional aircraft. One such workhorse is the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 (Built by a company long ago acquired by Boeing).

Md-80
MD-80 vs A220. Which is better? Photo: Simple Flying

With many airlines looking to modernize their regional aircraft, is the latest offering from Airbus, the A220, a spiritual successor to the MD-80? Let’s find out.

What is the McDonnell Douglas MD-80?

The MD-80 was a regional aircraft design from the Mcdonnell Douglas aerospace company for feeder routes to big hubs. The aircraft would collect passengers from smaller airports then fly them to hubs (like Dallas-Fort Worth) to transfer onto inter-state flights. Over 1,100 of the type were built and the aircraft is a great success story for the industry. 

MD-80
The MD-80 was known for its iconic rear engines. Photo: Wikimedia

Looking at the design and role of the MD-80, you might notice that Airbus’ new Bombardier built A220 fits in its big shoes quite easily but is it actually better?

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How do they compare?

Putting these two aircraft together we can see several similarities and vast differences. Have a look below at the MD-81,-82,-83,-88 compared to its rival the A220-300.

VariantMD-81/82/83/88A220-300 
Cockpit crewTwoTwo
1-class seats155Y @32-33″ (max 172)141 @ 32′ (max 160)
Length147 ft 8 in (45.01 m)127 ft 0 in / 38.7 m
Wing107 ft 8 in (32.82 m) span, 1,209 sq ft (112.3 m2) area115 ft 1 in / 35.1 m span, 1,209 sq ft / 112.3 m² area (10.97 AR)
Cabin Width122.5 in / 311.2 cm cabin129.0 in / 3.28 m width
Cargo1,253 cu ft (35.5 m31,116 cu ft / 31.6 m³
MTOW-81: 140,000 lb (63,500 kg)69,853 kg (154,000 lb)
-82: 149,500 lb (67,800 kg)
-83/88: 160,000 lb (72,600 kg)
Cruise speedMach 0.8 (472 kn; 873 km/h)[78]Mach .78 (447 kn; 829 km/h)
Range-81: 1,800 nmi (3,300 km) @ 137 pax3,350 nmi (6,200 km)
-82: 2,050 nmi (3,800 km) @ 155 pax
-83/88: 2,550 nmi (4,720 km) @ 155 pax
Takeoff7,200–8,000 ft (2,200–2,400 m)6,200 ft / 1,890 m
Fuel capacity5,850 US gal (22,100 L) -83/88: 7,000 US gal (26,000 L)21,918 l (5,790 USg) / 39,080 lb (17,726 kg)
Engines (×2)Pratt & Whitney JT8D-200 series2× Pratt & Whitney PW1500G
Thrust (×2)18,500–21,000 lbf (82–93 kN)21,000-23,300 lbf / 93.4-103.6 kN

Passengers

The MD-80 has a larger passenger capacity than the A220 (well, until Airbus builds a hyperthetical A220-500 stretch) with 12 more max passengers than the A220-300. Looking at the length of the aircraft, we can see that this room is put to good use.

Both aircraft seat passengers in a 3-2 configuration (with a 2-2 configuration for those in first).

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

Range

The second major factor airlines consider is range. You might be able to carry more passengers, but the range of the aircraft limits what routes you can fly.

The MD-80 can cover a distance of 2,550 nautical miles at its maximum range. The A220-300, on the other hand, can smash 3,350 nautical miles. This is the difference of 800 nautical miles (1,481 km) is the equivalent of Barcelona to Berlin, or Washington to Miami. This extra range is a game changer and one of the reasons why the A220-300 is so much more flexible for airlines.

The A220-300 is also cleared for transatlantic journeys.

ETOPS A220
Some of the routes now possible on the A220. Photo: Airbus

Which is better?

There is no denying that the larger capacity of the MD-80 makes it an attractive aircraft, and the main reason why it has been in use for so long. However, in this world of higher fuel prices and demand for longer point to point routes, the A220 comes out on top. We asked our Twitter for followers their thoughts:

What do you think? Let us know in the comments. 

10 comments
    1. Wing Mount
      Good: Easier engine access for service, shorter fuel lines (to wing tanks)
      Bad: Higher noise levels in cabin, more susceptible to ingestion of ground debris, requires larger rudder (larger corrective torque needed if one engine is lost)

      Rear Mount
      Good: Lower cabin noise, less likely to take in ground debris, more suitable to more kinds of runways (greater ground clearance).
      Bad: Harder to access for maintenance, longer fuel lines to wing tanks.

      This actually raises an interesting issue, though somewhat off-topic:
      Future aircraft engines may be so-called “propfans” or “unducted fans”, which have external, counter-rotating “propellers”, and combine the high thrust of a turbofan with the low fuel consumption of a turboprop. For various reasons (size, noise, containment issues) they won’t be wing-mounted, but will have to be rear-mounted. The concept has been around for years, but is receiving renewed interest.

  1. Good lord I should hope that the the A220 should come out on top. The Bombardier CS100 (now A220) wasn’t even on the drawing boards (feasibility study began 2004) when the MD-80 was last delivered (MD-83 to TWA in 1999). Irrespective of passenger carrying capability (the two are close in size, 12 passenger difference in max config), the A220 should run rings around any MD-80 derivative in terms of performance and efficiency. This is like comparing a Telsa Model 3 to a Ford Escort.

    1. Obviously there is a lot of enthusiasm for the A220 here.

      Next article suggestion, what’s better Sopwith Camel or A220?

      The Boeing 717 ( MD95) is the closest comparison to the A220. They stopped making them in 2006.

  2. Why aren’t you accepting the fact that the A220-100 is what is actually interesting? Yes it’s smaller but for many routes the MD80/90 took on fell between that an RJ. This is a better fit, better cabin for longer thin routes. The range difference on the A220-100 and A220-300 is minimal, the MD-90 was utterly outclassed on range.

  3. stupid comparison
    2 very different type of aircraft

    A220 is 100-130 seats

    M80 is 140-180 seats

    How can 2 very different planes compare together? Just like CRJ vs A320, cannot compare because their market is different

    1. Maybe it’s just me, but I actually interpreted the article as being sarcastically intended.
      It does serve to wonderfully illustrate how much better modern planes are than than older designs; in that context, your dismissive remarks could just as easily be applied to 747s and 767s, for example.
      The article nicely illustrates how disgracefully out-of-date Delta’s old MD wrecks are.

  4. Also, rear mount engines require a stronger empennage or rear of the aircraft and the clean wing and high (either T or cruciform) horizontal stabilizer can produce what is called a “Deep Stall” where the turbulent air coming off of a stalling main wing combined with the engine pylons and engines causes the rear surfaces to loose lift and produce what is essentially a unrecoverable stall. This effect was discovered when the first T-Tail rear engine jets like the Hawker Siddeley Trident started falling out of the sky.

    The industry have come up with solutions both high and low tech (the Dog Tooth) surfaces or Russian airliners to the now ubiquitous stick-shaker.

    To also expand on the higher maintenance it’s not just do the engines higher up it’s due to the complexity and height of the tail too.
    In terms of a true comparison the MD-80 series was an improved DC-9 which was almost exactly the size of the A220 and I believe still flies occasionally for either Delta or American (Were either Northwest, Delta or TWA airframes) but as was said earlier the DC-9 was conceived in 1960 and the 220 started over 60 years later so I hope it is a better aircraft.

    There are still many fans of the “Mad Dog” in the pilot community. I flew one for several years before switching to other equipment and it can be a “pilot’s aircraft” I would imagine after flying Airbus’ other aircraft I imagine the A220 would feel much less “soulful”

    I do think a much more fair comparison would be the Boeing 717 (MD-95) which seats 137 passengers and has much more fuel efficient high bypass turbofans ditching the ancient JD’s for Rolls Royce engines. It has a full glass cockpit and was built until 2006. Also Delta does fly them so passengers could do apples to apples comparisons.

    Another point is from a pilot’s point of view, a plane with mechanical controls and a yoke not a Fly By Wire setup I would say the MD wins in a more engaging contest. For the poster who compared a Tesla 3 to a Ford Escort.

    I think it’s more of a Viper vs a Ferrari. One has just an engine, a seat and wheels. One has every gadget to make it faster, more comfortable, sound better and look awesome. The Ferrari is always the winner but sometimes you like the feel of a real car under your seat.

  5. The reply just above this one nails it. I have ridden in both the MD-88 (1988 version of the MD-80) and airbus 320 variants. I prefer the MD-88 for two reasons…quieter for passengers and ride comfort. I would like to see the Boeing 717 rebirthed with more efficient engines and see how many airlines would buy them.

  6. It’s pretty stupid to compare an old MD-88 with a new jet.
    If Boeing re-opened that line, I think it’s safe to say they’d also use the latest engines available too, perhaps even an unducted fan or a reverse-mounted advanced turbo prop.
    The primary “thing” which makes the CS300 are its engines, period.
    The Russian Federation is now finding that out with their own MC-21 and western sanctions, and the Communist Chinese already figured that out with the COMAC 919.
    While I’m no fan of the DC-9’s jack screw (Alaska Airlines crash), the fact the ChiComm’s chose to copy/steal the DC-9 in their first commercial attempt, the COMAC ARJ-21, speaks to itself as far as which airframe is more robust; they could’ve jumped right to the CS300=sort-of COMAC 919, but elected instead to build their MD-80 clone first.

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