The Boeing 717 was never as popular as the 737, nor as iconic as the 747. However, it filled a much-needed niche in regional operators fleets and seems to have stood the test of time. Out of 155 produced, 148 are still in operation today. We take a look at who’s still operating the 717.
Originally designed by McDonnell Douglas and marketed as the MD-95, Boeing renamed the jet when it took over the company in 1997. It took its first flight in September 1998, and the first delivery was to AirTran Airways a year later. By 2002, Boeing had delivered its 100th aircraft of the type, and before production ended in 2006, a total of 155 717s were ordered and delivered.
At one point, almost 20 different operators had the 717 in their fleets, but today there are just four. Let’s see who they are, and where you can still hop on a 717 today.
Delta Air Lines
Delta has by far the biggest fleet of 717s in the sky today. With 91 of the type still in service, the carrier operates around 60% of the world’s current in-service 717 fleet. Unlike other big US operators, Delta has adopted a strategy of making use of older aircraft. In fact, not one of these 717s were bought new from Boeing.
The majority of Delta’s 717s actually came from AirTran, via Southwest Airlines. When Southwest bought out AirTran, it didn’t want to diversify from its 737 only model, so looked to offload the 88 717s that had arrived as part of the deal. As such, Delta began leasing all 88 of the jets.
Five more came from Blue1, a Finnish airline owned by CityJet which has subsequently been dissolved and merged into the parent company. Before its dissolution, it sold off nine 717s, with five going to Delta and the other four to Volotea.
Using second-hand 717s and MD-90s has allowed Delta to retire its aging DC-9s, without incurring the high costs involved with buying new jets from Boeing or Airbus. Despite its fleet averaging 19 years old, Delta’s in house MRO business, TechOps, has been very successful in keeping these older birds in the skies.
According to Planespotters, QantasLink, the regional brand of Australian airline Qantas, still operates 20 Boeing 717s. While the majority of its fleet is made up of DHC Dash 8 turboprops, the 717 is its second most prevalent aircraft type.
With an average age of 17.6 years, these 717s are not young aircraft. The oldest in the fleet is VH-NXH, at 19.8 years, while the youngest, VH-YQV, is 13.6 years old. However, Qantas is clearly keen to keep them in the air, securing a contract earlier this year for heavy maintenance for the 717s offshore in Singapore, according to Australian Aviation.
These aircraft are operated under the QantasLink brand by Cobham Aviation, formerly National Jet Systems. However, rumors of a buyout, as reported by Flight Global, could put the future of these antipodean 717s at risk.
The joint second-largest operator of the 717 currently is Hawaiian Airlines, which has 20 in its fleet according to data on Planespotters. Some of the oldest in its fleet have passed the 20 years mark, while the youngest are just over 14 years old.
Hawaiian uses the 717 exclusively on inter-island routes, having bought most of its aircraft in 2001. In 2008, it added a further four 717s to its fleet on lease, to pick up capacity left when Aloha Airlines closed its passenger operations. More recently, in 2017, a further five were leased from Boeing Capital Corporation.
Hawaiian has previously noted that it would like to plan a replacement for the 717, but that, in the past, there has been no real substitute that can match the 717 on capacity. However, with the A220 proving its worth with other airlines in North America, we would not be surprised to see an order announcement from Hawaiian in the coming months.
The world’s fourth largest and final operating airline is Volotea. The Spanish low cost carrier only launched in 2012, and began operations with the mindset to connect smaller European cities among themselves. They launched with a modest fleet of six 717s, all leased from Boeing Capital Corporation, which grew over the years to the current fleet of 17.
Interestingly, Volotea had not planned to begin service with the 717s. Rather, they had been studying the options of either the Bombardier C Series (now the A220) or the Embraer E195. However, when AirTran was acquired by Southwest, Boeing was suddenly heavy on 717s, and struck an attractive deal with the startup carrier.
However, it now seems that the Boeing jet’s days with Volotea are numbered. According to CH-Aviation, Volotea is planning to phase out its fleet of 717s over the coming years, in favor of the A319. CEO Carlos Muñoz is quoted by the publication as saying,
“In the coming years we expect to have a 100 percent A319 fleet. These new aircraft will also allow us to serve more distant destinations and provide superior on-board service as there will be improved seating pitch.”
The final 717 is expected to leave Volotea’s fleet in 2021. Munoz told Flight Global that the 717 is too large for some of its smaller markets, and that the A319 simply serves its needs better.
Have you flown on a 717? Do you plan to jump on the baby Boeing before it goes to the great hangar in the sky? Let us know in the comments.