Everyone talks about the latest and the greatest and the newest aircraft. You see them in the news all the time, from Airbus’s A321XLR to Boeing’s more notorious 737 MAX jets. However, what about the older airliners? The ones that you get on and they’re like a blast to the past, that don’t have any fancy bells or whistles or amenities.
Would you feel nervous flying on a jet that’s possibly older than you are? Believe it or not, most airliners that are well taken care of can easily last decades and operate perfectly safely. In fact, there are many jets flying today that are over 20 years old. Here are a few of the airlines taking advantage of that and getting every last bit of productivity from their planes before retiring them.
As of earlier this year, American Airlines boasted an average fleet age of 10.8 years. It’s not that old really, especially when you look at airlines internationally like Austrian, with an average fleet of age almost 15 years–the highest in Europe. Still — that’s just the average. What are some of the oldest aircraft in American Airlines’ fleet?
Well, there are some Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft that are on the older side, but the main aircraft dragging down American Airlines’ average fleet age (at least until the very recent past) were the MD-80s.
American Airlines has a long history with the MD-80, as the first major U.S. airline to use the aircraft. At one point, American was flying more than 360 of them, at its peak MD-80 usage in 2002. This usage accounted for more than a third of all MD-80s produced.
American Airlines, however, finally said goodbye to its MD-80s in September of this year, retiring its remaining 26 in service to Roswell, New Mexico.
Delta Air Lines
You know how we compared American’s aircraft ages to Austrian’s, and noted the difference between 10 and 15 years? Well, Delta has even Austrian’s average airline age beat, with an average fleet age of 15.8 as of earlier this year. This is a decrease, though, from Delta’s average fleet age as of 2017, 17 years, thanks to the slow but steady retirement of their MD-88s and MD-90s.
Delta currently flies the oldest airliners in the United States, with its more than 100 MD-80 and MD-90 aircraft averaging 26 years of age. Delta is also the last remaining operator of the MD-90, but it does plan to phase out its usage of the aircraft. It expects to retire all of its MD-90s by 2022.
United Airlines comes close to Delta with an average fleet age of 15.1 years. Its average fleet age can be most likely traced back to its Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft, many of which are about 20 years old on average. As of October, United Airlines operates a fleet of nearly 800 aircraft, with all those aircraft being Boeing and Airbus aircraft. United has announced a fleet renewal though. Over the next couple of years, they will replace their aging Boeing 757s with new Airbus A321NEO-XLRs.
The main culprit for aging US fleets in the US is retiring…
While some airlines have some older 757s and 767s, airlines with MD-80 fleets drove up the aircraft age considerably. Almost all McDonnell Douglas jets will be retired by the end of 2020.
The McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and MD-90s aircraft that you saw/see in American Airlines’ and Delta’s fleets didn’t just plague those two carriers’ average fleet ages. As of two years ago, Allegiant Air was averaging a fleet age of nearly 20 years because the majority of its fleet were those same aircraft. Today, Allegiant is a much modern fleet of A320 based aircraft. As I mentioned earlier, American also retired their fleet. Today, Delta is the only major US airline that still operates the MD-88 and MD-90 aircraft.
The McDonnell Douglas MD-80s series debuted in 1980, with the first commercial airliner to operate one of these very popular aircraft being Swissair. Likely many of us have flown on one in our lives, as the twin-engine, single-aisle jetliner was (and still is, in some cases) popular on short-range, regional flights and, at its debut, was one of the most fuel-efficient commercial airplanes available (though that’s obviously not the case any longer). The MD-80 was used by more than two dozen different major carriers around the world, with American Airlines being the first major U.S. carrier to order the aircraft, leasing 20 from McDonnell Douglas in 1982 (to replace its Boeing 727-100 aircraft). McDonnell Douglas ceased production of the MD-80 aircraft in 1999.
The McDonnell Douglas MD-90 series, on the other hand, was introduced in 1995, with the first airline to feature the aircraft being Delta, who is now the only remaining operator of the MD-90. The MD-90 was considered an improvement upon the MD-80, with better fuel efficiency and a longer fuselage. However, not as many airlines flew the MD-90, and certainly not to the extent that American Airlines used the MD-80. Other than Delta, the largest user of the aircraft was Saudia Arabian Airlines, who, at one point, had 29 MD-90s in its fleet. Production ceased in 2000.
What’s the oldest airliner in the rest of the world?
Though some younger avgeeks might be shocked to see aircraft flying at 26 years old or older, those are far from the oldest aircraft the sky.
Multiple Canadian airliners still operate Boeing 737-200 aircraft in the northern regions of the country. And a number of Fokker F-100 (from the early 1990s) and Boeing 737-300 and -500s still operate in Africa and Asia.