Why Did Delta Air Lines Operate The DC-9?

On October 7th, 1965, Delta Air Lines received its first McDonnell Douglas DC-9 aircraft. The firm was the first operator to introduce the narrowbody into service. It took the type on to serve smaller and intermediate-sized cities on its routes. This first unit, named the Delta Prince, led this task.

Delta DC-9 Aircaft
Delta had a long-term relationship with the DC-9. Photo: Delta Air Lines

A shift in the market

During the 1960s, many new passenger segments had opened up within the aviation market. With airlines growing their network and connecting more airports across the United States, more people gained the opportunity to hit the skies.

According to the Delta Flight Museum, before this purchase, Delta took on the DC-8 and then Convair 880 for longer-distance flights. However, with a capacity of 65 passengers, the DC-9 helped fulfill shorter-distance operations. During this time, 60 percent of all passenger traffic in the country was on routes that had a distance of 500 miles or less.

These services were usually performed by propellor aircraft such as the DC-6 DC-7 and Convair 440. Therefore, the Pratt & Whitney JT8D-1 turbofan-powered DC-9 was designed to fly from 98 percent of the country’s airports in 1965. Moreover, it was the first American-built jet to serve smaller sized cities.

Delta DC-9
The DC-9 in newer livery. Photo: Cory W. Watts via Wikimedia Commons

Further developments

Its first passenger flight departed Atlanta on November 29th, 1965. The plane headed for Kansas City via Memphis to perform the beginning of what became a daily scheduled service on December 8th of that year.

As passenger demand increased, Delta took on the Model 32 in 1967, which was much larger than the DC-14 and DC-15 variants. The new model was fifteen feet longer than the standard jet. Additionally, it could carry to 108,000 lbs in gross weight. Altogether, it could serve up to 89 passengers.

Delta had initially let go of the twin-engine plane in 1993. However, just like the Boeing 747, the type reentered service following the firm’s merger with Northwest Airlines in 2008.

Delta Air Lines DC-9
The newer units of the DC-9 are longer than their predecessors. Photo: Cory W. Watts via Wikimedia Commons

All great things must come to an end

As of 1996, over 880 of the planes were still in the air. However, as airlines continued to modernize their fleets, Delta started to phase out the DC-9s that they gained in the new millennium.

Therefore, on January 6th, 2014, the operator retired the last of its remaining DC-9s. This final service departed Minneapolis/St. Paul for Delta’s hub of Atlanta, in a fitting send-off. This was the last scheduled commercial passenger flight of the DC-9 by a major US-based carrier. Altogether, Delta flew a total of 305 DC-9s since 1965

Former Delta’s vice president of fleet strategy Nat Pieper spoke highly of the aircraft when it was retired. He explained that the plane made way for more efficient options.

“The DC-9 has been a workhorse in our domestic fleet while providing a reliable customer experience,” Pieper said, according to Delta’s press release.

“The aircraft’s retirement paves the way for newer, more efficient aircraft.”

With several other aircraft going through retirement this decade, Delta is also looking to reshuffle its fleet once again. Just like the DC-9, these planes all served a specific purpose, but as the industry continues to evolve, each type has to eventually leave.

What are your thoughts on Delta’s history with the DC-9? Have you experienced a trip with this aircraft? Let us know what you think in the comment section.