American Airlines Retires 8 Super 80’s In The Desert

Looking to retire its entire fleet of MD-80 aircraft by 2019, American Airlines has retired 8 aircraft to the desert.

While over the years there have been 348 American Airlines MD-80 aircraft, there are now only 34 left in service. Yesterday morning the airline had 42 still in service. 8 MD-80 aircraft were flown to Roswell International Air Centre, marking one step closer to the end for the entire MD-80 fleet.

American MD-80 Finals
American started off with just 20 MD-80s. Photo: Eddie Maloney

MD-80 History

The first MD-80 took flight on October 18th, 1979. Almost a year later, the first MD-80 aircraft entered service with Swissair on October 10. With 5 variations, the MD-80 can hold between 130-172 passengers. A total of 1,191 MD-80 aircraft have been built over the years, as recently as 1999. Following the merger of McDonnell-Douglas with Boeing in 1997, the MD-90, a stretched version of the MD-80 became the B717.

American’s MD-80s

American currently operate 32 MD-83 aircraft and 2 MD-82 aircraft. Yesterday it retired 7 MD-82 aircraft, and a further 1 MD-83. The American MD-80 has a total of 140 seats onboard. The front four rows of the aircraft have a 2-2 configuration of first class seats. Following first, there are 5 rows of Main Cabin Extra seats in a 2-3 configuration with extra legroom. Finally, there are 18 rows and 3 half rows of standard seats, again in a 2-3 configuration.

AA MD-80 on Ramp
American aims to be operating no MD-80 aircraft at the end of 2019. Photo: Bill Abbott

The story of how American first acquired the MD-80 is an interesting one to say the least. At the time of acquisition American was not looking to grow its fleet, and had already turned the MD-80 down. Desperate to get a big American carrier flying the aircraft, McDonnell-Douglas agreed a unique deal with the airline. American would rent 20 MD-80 aircraft from the manufacturer for 5 years. At the end of the agreement, American could walk away from the MD-80 with no obligation. American had 200 MD-80 aircraft flying within 8 years of this deal.

As a result the MD-80 ended up taking American from a carrier in financial difficulty, to an efficient airline making huge profits. In a way it also revolutionised the aviation industry.

What Will Happen To American’s MD-80s?

Roswell International Air Centre is one of the world’s largest aviation graveyards. The airfield has capacity for to around 300 stored aircraft at any one time. With an average humidity of 4-8%, the location of the airfield is perfect for aircraft preservation. While Boeing use the airfield for braking performance tests, many airlines use it for storage. American Airlines, Air Canada, Kenya Airways, and Scoot, are among airlines which use the airfield in this manner.

AA MD-80 Side Profile
American is retiring its MD-80 fleet at Roswell International Air Centre. Photo: Eddie Maloney

American’s MD-80s will most probably sit in the Roswell desert until they are turned into scrap metal. Almost immediately the aircraft will have their engines removed. Engines are the most valuable products on the aircraft, and also the most likely to sustain damage. Once the engines have been removed, all of the aircraft’s openings will be sealed and its windows covered. Some will have parts removed every time a serviceable spare is needed. In contrast, others may one day see the light shine inside their fuselage again. This could be as a museum piece, or serving an obscure start up airline looking for cheap planes.

While the MD-80 won’t be missed for the service it provided, it will almost certainly be missed for the part it played in American Airlines’ history.

1 comment
  1. To MD-90 did not become the B717, the MD-95 did, which was still in development when McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997. The MD-95 was to replace the DC-9, and was of a similar size to the DC-9-50, much shorter than both the MD-80 and MD-90.

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