American Retires Its Last McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, the Onetime ‘Backbone’ of the Fleet

By Paul Riegler on 4 September 2019
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America Airlines, at one time the world’s largest operator of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80, retired its remaining 26 MD-80s on Wednesday.

The airline had previously announced plans to fully retire its McDonnell Douglas MD-80 fleet by the end of 2019, but accelerated the process.

The disappearance of the MD-80 from American’s fleet also means the end of the line for the airline’s logo and livery that was on its aircraft since 1968.   The logo was designed by Massimo Vignelli, one of the most influential designers of the twentieth century, who was also known for his New York City subway map and the iconic brown bag design still in use by Bloomingdale’s.

American Airlines MD-80s at the gate at DFW

American Airlines MD-80s at the gate at DFW

“The aircraft was the workhouse of our fleet throughout the 1980s and beyond,” the airline said in a memo to employees.

American was the first major U.S. airline to order the type. The first 20 to arrive at the airline replaced aging Boeing 727-100s. American eventually had over one third of the 1,191 MD-80s produced.

The Dallas-based airline had more than 400 MD-80s in its fleet at its peak. The first MD-80, which American branded the Super 80, was delivered in 1983, the last came in 1999.  In their final years at the airline, the remaining Mad Dogs, as they are affectionately known, were based in Dallas and flew short- to medium-haul routes that were part of the airline’s hub-and-spoke system.

In their final configuration, American’s Super 80s seated 16 passengers in the first-class cabin, 35 in Main Cabin Extra, the airline’s premium economy lite section, and 89 in coach. Seats in first class were 21” wide with a seat pitch that ranged from 38” to 40”. Seats in Main Cabin Extra and in coach were 17.8” in width and were in a 2-3 configuration. The seat pitch in the Main Cabin Extra section was 34” while it was 31” in coach.

FINAL FLIGHTS AND FLIGHT 80

American operated 23 “final flights,” mostly to Dallas/Fort Worth, before the remaining MD-80s would be ferried to Roswell International Air Center, a “boneyard” or storage facility for retired aircraft.

The final revenue flight was the aptly named Flight 80 from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Chicago O’Hare International Airport. It departed Dallas at 9 a.m. local time and arrived in Chicago at 11:35 a.m. After a brief gate celebration, it, too, left for Roswell.

The airline held farewell gate celebrations for the Super 80 at two other airports, namely St. Louis Lambert International Airport, TWA’s former hub (TWA had 108 MD-80s in its fleet in its final year of existence), and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

“They were the backbone of the airline,” said Captain Jay Kennedy, an AA pilot based at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, in a video distributed by the airline. “Everything you did in the cockpit directly moved something on the aircraft,” in an allusion to today’s fly-by-wire cockpits.

Once a mainstay at the nation’s airports, the MD-80 is still one of the most recognizable aircraft in the world thanks to its T-tail and rear-mounted engines.

The MD-80 designation represents a series of twin-engine, short- to medium-range single-aisle jetliners that are a lengthened and updated version of the Douglas DC-9. Depending on the variant and configuration, it can seat between 130 and 172 passengers.

The aircraft entered commercial service on October 10, 1989 with launch customer Swissair.  The retirement of the American MD-80s leaves Delta Air Lines as the only U.S. airline with a significant fleet of the type.  Delta has 65 MD-88s as well as 32 MD-90s, a more fuel efficient version of the MD-80 with a longer fuselage.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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