Which Airlines Still Fly The MD-11

The McDonnell Douglas MD-11 is a long-range, widebody tri-jet aircraft that was in production from 1990 to 2000. However, it never met its expected commercial success. Flaws in its performance saw it lose sales to the Airbus A340 and the MD-11 is now only operated by cargo airlines. Here we’ll take a look at the jet and which airlines are still flying it.

FedEx MD-11
The MD-11 is only operated by cargo airlines. Photo: Getty Images

About the MD-11

The MD-11 was derived from the DC-10 but had a longer fuselage and wider wings with winglets. Power was provided by either three GE CF6-80C2 or PW 4460 turbofan engines.

Four versions of the aircraft were offered: passenger, all cargo, convertible cargo, and the “combi,” which carried passengers and cargo on the main deck and additional freight in the hold. All versions were available with an extended-range (ER) feature.

The first MD-11 was rolled out in September 1989 and made its maiden flight in January 1990. Finnair was the first airline to take delivery of the new plane and made its inaugural commercial flight from Helsinki to Tenerife in the Canary Islands on December 20, 1990.

According to Boeing, at the height of its service in January 1998, 174 MD-11s had been delivered. More than 20 airlines operated the aircraft to over 100 cities in 55 countries, with over 270 scheduled flights every day.

However, after the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas in 1997, the aircraft’s days were numbered. It had competition from Boeing’s own 767-400 and 777, as well as the Airbus A340. A total of 200 MD-11s were built before Boeing ceased production in 2000. The final aircraft was delivered to Lufthansa Cargo on February 22, 2001.

FedEx MD-11
FedEx is the biggest operator of MD-11s with 59 in its fleet. Photo: Robert Stankiewicz via Flickr

Federal Express

The first two MD-11s to be built were intended for Federal Express (FedEx), so they already had the forward side cargo door fitted. They stayed with the manufacturer until they were delivered in 1991. According to Planespotters.net, FedEx currently has 59 MD-11s with 53 in service and six parked.

Several of the FedEx MD-11s have been involved in serious incidents. N611FE crashed at Newark Liberty International Airport in July 1997 after bouncing on landing, flipping upside down and catching fire. In October 1999, N581FEwas written off when it overran the runway in Manila. In March 2009, N526FE crashed at Tokyo-Narita Airport when it also bounced hard on landing, flipped over and burst into flames.

Lufthansa Cargo MD-11
Lufthansa Cargo has just six MD-11s in its fleet. Photo: Riik@mctr via Flickr

Lufthansa Cargo

Lufthansa Cargo currently operates six MD-11s with five in service and one parked. It took delivery of the first aircraft in 1998, with the last one arriving in May 2000. One of Lufthansa’s aircraft crashed at Riyadh Airport in July 2010 when it left the runway after a hard landing. The nose landing gear collapsed and the plane caught fire. There were no fatalities.

United Parcel Service

United Parcel Service (UPS) has been operating MD-11s since 2001 and has 39 of the aircraft type, all of which are currently in service. They have an average age of 26.9 years. In June 2016, one of the MD-11s was written off when the crew aborted take-off and it overran the runway causing the nose gear to collapse.

Western Global Airlines operates 14 MD-11s. Photo: Nicky Boogaard via Flickr

Western Global Airlines

Western Global Airlines (WGA) is a relative newcomer to the MD-11, having taken delivery of the first aircraft, N543JN, in 2013. It started life as a passenger jet with EVA Airways before being converted for cargo. It subsequently saw service with Wells Fargo, Shanghai Airlines, and China Cargo Airlines before arriving at WGA, which now operates 14 MD-11s with 12 in service and two parked.

Did you fly on the MD-11? What did you think of it?