The MD-80 Vs The Boeing 717 – Which Aircraft Is Better?


The smallest of Boeing’s planes, the 717, was adopted and renamed when the planemaker merged with McDonnell Douglas in 1995. However, even though it was modeled after the same predecessor, it never came close to reaching the success of the “Mad Dog” MD-80. So just what set these two T-tailed aircraft apart?

717 vs MD-80
The two T-tailed models of the B717 and the MD-80 designed from the DC-9 are still flying. But what are the differences? Photo: Getty Images

Both built on the foundations of the DC-9

Both the Boeing 717 and the MD-80/90 were based on the design of the DC-9, which was built between 1965 and 1982, which means that they have fundamentally similar features.

The 717 was originally designed and marketed by McDonnell Douglas as the MD-95. However, Boeing acquired its long-term rival in 1995. The manufacturer soon rebranded the MD-95 as the 717-200 to better fit with its other product lines.

Meanwhile, very few airlines wanted to buy the model. Produced between 1998 to 2006, Boeing sold and delivered only 156 of its adopted plane. Even Delta Air Lines, the largest operator of 717s, did not purchase any of its planes direct from Boeing. They only arrived with the airline beginning in 2013.

However, the carriers who have ended up operating the 717 have expressed a particular fondness for it.

“They’re brilliant aircraft. Anyone who has them wants more of them,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told Business Insider a couple of years back.

The MD-80 took to the skies for the first time over 40 years ago. Photo: Getty Images

Qantas is one of the few airlines to still fly the 717, through its QantasLink branch, along with Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Spanish low-cost carrier Volotea. Meanwhile, Delta has announced that it would be retiring all of its 717s, along with the 767-300ERs, by 2025. Delta also retired the last of its Mad Dog MD-88s and -90s in June this year.

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MD-80 fared much better

McDonnell Douglas began developing the MD-80 series in the 1970s and it took its first flight over 40 years ago. The recognizable T-tailed silhouette has graced the skies for airlines across the entire world, including AeroMexico, Alaska Airlines, Austrian Airlines, SAS, Iberia, and Korean Air.

The manufacturer sold and delivered no less than 1,191 from the family. So if the question had been which of the aircraft fared better commercially, the answer would have been pretty simple. But what other specifications set the two jetliners apart?

The 717 has a much shorter range compared to the MD-80. Photo: Getty Images

The technical specs

The Boeing 717 uses two Rolls-Royce BR700 engines 18,920 lbf (84.2 kN) of thrust. The MD-80 uses Pratt & Whitney JT8D-200 series with 18,500 to 21,000 lb (82-93 kN) of thrust.

The 717 has a cruising speed of 822 km/h, while the MD-80 with its more powerful engines comes in slightly higher at 873 km/h.

The 717s have, quite fittingly, 117 seats in a one-class configuration with a 2-3 set up. However, for instance, Delta has them configured with 110 seats – 12 in first class, 20 in Comfort+, and 78 in economy.

The MD-80s have an average seat configuration of 155 for all models (except for the shorter MD-87, which had 130). These would typically be set up with 12 premium class seats in a 2-2 configuration and 123 economy with five abreast.

The Boeing has a range of 2,645 km, while the MD-80s reach much further at 4,400 to 5,400 km. Both aircraft share the same service ceilings of 37,000 feet or 11,000 meters.

As they both have engines fitted in the back, the passenger experience varies more according to where in the plane you are seated, rather than by which of the two aircraft you are traveling on.

However, for airlines, it makes a big difference depending on what kind of routes they wish to deploy their 100-seat tier aircraft on, and how large a capacity is needed. None of which are a given over time.

Have you flown on both the 717 and the MD-80? Which one do you prefer? Let us know in the comments.