Why Northwest Retired Its DC-10 Fleet In 2007

Northwest used the DC-10 (of all variants) for 35 years. The last scheduled service was Flight 98, which departed from Honolulu at 18:20 on January 7th, 2007, and arrived in Minneapolis the following morning at 05:54. Minneapolis was the number-one airport for Northwest’s DC-10s, based on an analysis of schedules from 2004.

Why Northwest Retired Its DC-10 Fleet In 2007
Northwest retired its DC-10s in 2007, with the end unavoidable given rising fuel prices and the aircraft’s renowned thirst for fuel. Photo: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia.

2004 throwback; what a fleet!

The year 2014 feels a lifetime ago, at least in terms of Northwest’s fleet (here including Airlink, its regional operation). Then, Northwest had B747-200s, Short 360s, Saab 340s, DC-9s, and DC-10s in passenger service, as shown below (note: all types are combined by aircraft).

  1. CRJ: approximately 205,838 flights
  2. DC-9: 254,544
  3. Saab 340: 144,410
  4. A320: 100,798
  5. A319: 99,386
  6. B757: 75,363
  7. Avro RJ: 63,285
  8. B747: 11,867
  9. DC-10: 11,118
  10. A330: 5,643
  11. Short 360: 5,270

The DC-10 had around 11,118 flights, according to Cirium, the aviation data company – about one in every 100 movements. It had twice as many flights as the A330, both the -200 and -300 combined, which was the main aircraft that replaced the trijet. While the DC-10 was insignificant by total flights, it was naturally important in terms of available seat miles (ASMs).

Why Northwest Retired Its DC-10 Fleet In 2007
Amsterdam was Northwest’s largest international destination for DC-10 flights in 2004. On August 13th, 2004, the type had six departures from the airport. Photo: Kambui via Wikimedia.

The DC-10 jumped to fourth

There are various ways to measure airline capacity (or supply), typically by seats, flights, or ASMs. Each has different advantages and disadvantages, and each measures things in different ways. They all provide different perspectives.

ASMs are good because they combine route distance with the number of seats available, while flights and seats don’t have any element of distance. Not surprisingly, widebodies feature much more prominently by ASMs because of long-haul services and higher capacity, as follows. The DC-10 produced around one in ten ASMs, more than the workhorse DC-9.

  1. B747: 18.78 billion ASMs each way in 2004
  2. B757: 17.73 billion
  3. A320: 14.56 billion
  4. DC-10: 11.94 billion
  5. DC-9: 11.88 billion
  6. A319: 10.94 billion
  7. A330: 6.21 billion
  8. CRJ: 4.64 billion
  9. Avro RJ: 2.00 billion
  10. Saab 340: 1.03 billion
  11. Short 360: 14.54 million
Why Northwest Retired Its DC-10 Fleet In 2007
Detroit, an important Northwest hub, was only the eighth-largest airport for DC-10s in 2004. Photo: Getty Images

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22 airports saw the DC-10 in 2004

Some 22 airports welcomed Northwest’s DC-10s in 2004. As indicated below, Minneapolis was the largest by total flights, with non-stop service to Amsterdam (continuing to Mumbai), Honolulu, and London Gatwick. This was in the time of Bermuda II, repealed in 2007, which meant that only American Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic could serve Heathrow from the US.

  1. Minneapolis
  2. Amsterdam
  3. Honolulu
  4. Tokyo Narita
  5. Mumbai
  6. Seattle
  7. Gatwick
  8. Detroit
  9. Singapore
  10. San Francisco
Why Northwest Retired Its DC-10 Fleet In 2007
Honolulu played an important role, with six routes, including Osaka and Tokyo Narita non-stop, and Taipei via Narita. Image: GCMap.

On the randomly chosen date of August 13th, 2004, Northwest had five departures from Amsterdam by the DC-10, including to Memphis, a former hub. The remaining four flights that day were to Detroit and all by the A330-300. Northwest and KLM had a close relationship, which continues with Delta and KLM through SkyTeam.

  1. Mumbai: departure at 10:30 (having arrived from Minneapolis)
  2. Minneapolis: 10:45 (having arrived from Mumbai)
  3. Seattle: 11:10
  4. Boston: 14:10
  5. Memphis: 14:30
  6. Minneapolis: 16:35

What memories do you have of the airline’s DC-10s? Let us know in the comments.