On American Airlines slowly retiring its MD-80s

It is nearly the end of the era for American's Super 80s. Photo: Dylan Ashe, via Creative Commons.

It is nearly the end of the era for American’s Super 80s. Photo: Dylan Ashe, via Creative Commons.

If you haven’t already seen it, the article to read from the weekend is Terry Maxon’s excellent piece on the MD-80s now being retired by American Airlines.

Even if you’re not an avid aviation follower, you know the plane if you’ve flown American at all in the past decade. It has been the workhorse of the fleet, perhaps best known among casual fliers for its 2-3 seating configuration and the two smallish engines mounted near the tail. And if you have ever taken a peek in the cockpit, you’ve probably noticed that it lacks some of the modern equipment you see in other 21st century jetliners. (Of course, it’s very safe, and pilots say they like flying it.)

Yes, it’s just an airplane. But Maxon, who follows the retirement of one plane — N7530, which joined American’s fleet in 1990 — tells a nice story about the changing economics of the airline industry.

At one time, American operated more than 370 MD-80s, which it dubbed the Super 80. Now there are fewer than 160 left, and the fleet will shrink to under 140 by year’s end. By the end of 2018, if plans aren’t changed, the last MD-80 will be out of American’s enormous fleet.

Almost every American pilot of the last three decades has spent time in the MD-80 cockpit. Billy Parker, hired at American in 1989, logged 13,250 flying hours in the plane, which he described as “just a good, reliable pair of blue jeans.”

“It’s not as sexy as the newer airplanes,” he said, “but man, it has been a workhorse.”

A bit of trivia for you. The MD-80s operated by American go by a few nicknames. Can you name any?

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What American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told employees this week

Tuesday was 'Customer Day One' at the new American Airlines Group. Photo: US Airways.

American will retire its MD80s by 2018, according to a letter this week to employees. Photo credit: US Airways

In a communique today to employees, American Airlines Group summarized some of what top executives said earlier this week in a “state of the airline” discussion.

There are some interesting tidbits, many of which have been previously reported. But it is worth noting that American plans to retire all of its Super80s by 2018. And it’s interesting that AAG will take delivery of 93 airplanes this year.

As for that $10 billion in cash American has tucked away? ““The first thing we’ll do is look at any debt we have,” CEO Doug Parker said.

Read on for the entire Q and A, taken from American’s latest employee newsletter.

Could you shed any light on the fleet plan?
During Tuesday’s State of the Airline, President Scott Kirby explained that “between American and US Airway, we have a fleet order of about 600 mainline aircraft and 90 large regional jets coming to refresh and modernize the fleet. We’ll retire the older Boeing 737s and Super 80s, with the last S80 leaving the fleet in 2018 We’ll taking delivery of 93 aircrafts this year - that’s almost two aircraft a week. We also have a lot of widebody growth coming and as these aircraft come in, and depending on the economic climate, they can be replacement aircrafts for the Boeing 767. In today’s world, the biggest growth opportunities for American are international and the widebodies will allow for that. The domestic market is much more mature, but international economies, like China, are growing much faster and we think there are growth opportunities there. We have the Boeing 787s and 777s, and Airbus A330s still coming and also have Airbus A350s coming in 2017.”
What is AAL planning to do now with the $10 billion in cash? What is AAL planning to do now with the $10 billion in cash?
“The first thing we’ll do is look at any debt we have,” Doug answered. “We still have a very large amount of debt between the two airlines, so it would be in our interest to pay down the debt that’s out there at a high interest rate. After we do that, and we’re sure we’re comfortable in the economic environment, we’ll want to ensure that we have enough cash to invest in projects around the company that also provide returns for us, because we have equipment and things that could use some refurbishment. Then we’ll look to see if there’s something to return to our shareholders because it is their cash. We’re holding it, but they loaned it to us, and rather than leaving it in the bank to earn one percent interest or less, we should return it to them and let them get the returns
that they invested for. We’ll look to that, but we’re a ways away. But, I think we can all agree that $10 billion is a lot of cash.”
What are we doing to improve our operations?
Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom weighed in saying, “When you think about serving our most basic customer needs, it’s all predicated on being ready. One of the things that I’ve noticed in my short time here is that as a company, we’re not yet ready to achieve greatness. It’s not because we’re not trying hard – it’s because we’re not all put together yet in the way we need to be. We’re not in position, rested, prepared, resourced, in uniform, ready to go, where we need to be each time. First and foremost, to really start the day right we have to have our aircraft set up and ready to go first thing in the morning, meaning they have to be out of maintenance. And that also means throughout the day, deferring as little maintenance as possible so that we’re always ready and that we have all resources ready where they need to be.”
He continued, “If I take a look at all of the things we need to do in the airline – and exceptional customer service and meeting needs on every level is really important – at the base you start with safety and compliance. Everything else after that is really dependent on core reliability. That core reliability is tied to departing on time and having everybody and everything ready to go. We’re not ready yet, but believe me, we’re going to get everybody within management and all our frontline employees on board with the concept of, ‘Are we ready? Do we have the equipment, the tools, the resources, so that we can deliver our customers’ needs when they need to go?’ Then we can all be proud at the end of the day of the product we’re delivering.”

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