An AirTran Boeing 717 lands in Atlanta
On December 28, 2014, AirTran flight 1 departed Atlanta for Tampa, retracing the airline’s first flight and bringing an end to its remarkable history. I had the honor of being on that last flight and I am excited to share my story. But before I discuss the end of “the big little a” I’d like to first revisit the airline’s history. Because only through knowledge of the airline’s legacy can we truly understand the significance of AirTran’s retirement and integration into Southwest Airlines. So sit back, relax, and enjoy.
ValuJet: Fun and friendly… And perhaps a bit dangerous.
AirTran traces its roots back to ValuJet, an Atlanta-based upstart with dreams of chipping away at Delta’s dominance right in its own backyard. Operations commenced with just a single DC-9, and its first flight was from Atlanta to Tampa on October 26, 1993. In just over a year the airline was solidly profitable and its route map had grown to 17 cities. But fast growth and aggressive cost-cutting practices quickly caught up to the Critter (ValuJet’s FAA call sign.) In the first few years of operation, the small airline had a markedly-high percentage of emergency landings, compared to its peers. In addition, an FAA study indicated that ValuJet dominated the accident data for low-cost carriers.
On May 11, 1996, ValuJet flight 592 went down en-route from Miami to Atlanta; all 110 on board were lost. This tragic, high-profile accident would focus attention on the airline, its maintenance practices, and ultimately lead to its grounding. After a month of investigations by the FAA, which reveled “serious deficiencies in its operation” ValuJet would voluntarily halt operations. But this wasn’t the end for the fledgling airline that had lost its way. Instead, it was just the beginning.
Continue reading So Long, Citrus! A Look at AirTran’s History and Final Flight Experience
Blue1 is based in Copenhagen and is owned by the SAS Group. Their fleet of nine Boeing 717s fly to destinations around Europe, but mostly within Finland.
BONUS: Video of Blue1 Boeing 717
They offer wet leases for other airlines, tour operators, and a variety of other long/short-term deals.
Blue1 also offers a pretty slick looking livery. It starts with a blue tail and swirls and gradients itself into lighter blue and purple hues before becoming white in the front. It goes against the boring European white liveries that have become more popular, and is quite a bit more exciting than its parent’s much more boring livery.
Connect with Blue1: Web | Twitter (@SAS) | Facebook (SAS)
Say hello a freshly-painted Delta Boeing 717! Photos: Delta Air Lines
Two months ago a number of folks broke news that the much-anticipated Delta Air Lines Boeing 717-200 had finally started showing up in reservation systems. For aviation enthusiasts, it’s an exciting time when an airline brings on a new aircraft type, especially one like the 717. The 717 holds a special place in many hearts for a number of reasons, chiefly because it’s an ultra-modern descendant of the Douglas DC-9s and MD-80s which have a cult following with pilots and AvGeeks alike.
In 2011, Southwest Airlines acquired AirTran, a 717 launch partner who also happened to fly the largest fleet of 717s in the world. Aviation enthusiasts questioned whether Southwest would go against their all-Boeing 737 business model that had served them so well over the decades. Much to the surprise of many aviation industry analysts and insiders, Southwest announced they would indeed incorporate the 717 into their fleet. However, those plans never came to fruition. In 2012, Southwest and Delta announced a sweetheart deal which would allow Delta to take possession of the former AirTran birds, allowing them to retire a number of older DC/MD variants and giving Southwest the ability to maintain fleet uniformity.
After digging around on Delta.com, I confirmed the first scheduled 717 flight was supposed to be 2343 on 9/19 from ATL to EWR. I had already booked a mini-vacation to the NYC area for that weekend, so the timing simply could not have been better. I almost canceled my outbound leg and booked this flight instead…almost. Understanding that new equipment is often subject to last minute changes, I decided a call to Delta was in order.
Continue reading Photos: Delta Begins Receiving Boeing 717s
The AirTran Boeing 717s will go from their current livery to Delta's. We will not see one in Southwest livery. Image by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindren.
Yesterday, it was announced that Southwest Airlines will sublease all 88 of their Boeing 717 aircraft from their wholly owned subsidiary, AirTran, to Delta Air Lines. The tentative agreement would move the 717s from Southwest starting in the second half of 2013 and and be finished in 2015.
In September 2010, Southwest announced the purchase of AirTran and many have questioned what Southwest would do with the Boeing 717s, since they only operate a fleet of Boeing 737s.
“This is a very complex transaction that requires time and close coordination with multiple parties. While we do have a tentative agreement with Delta, final details must be completed with all parties before a binding agreement between Delta and Southwest can be completed,” said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest Airlines’ Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.
Southwest plans to re-train 717 AirTran pilots to flying on the 737. All flight attendants and maintenance personal who work for AirTran are already trained on both aircraft types.
Before the move of aircraft can commence, Delta’s pilots will need to approve it. Already, the Master Executive Council (MEC) of the Delta Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has given a tentative agreement and pilots will be able to review the change until June 30th.
Delta has stated that the Boeing 717s will be used to replace 50-seat regional jets. “These actions pave the way for us to restructure and upgauge our domestic fleet, which will lower our costs, provide more pilot jobs and improve the onboard experience for our customers,” said Delta CEO Richard Anderson. “The addition of the Boeing 717s, additional large regional jets and the planned replacement of 50-seat aircraft continue Delta’s commitment to operating an efficient, flexible domestic fleet that offers customers even more opportunities to upgrade to our First Class and Economy Comfort cabins.”
Since Delta already has a fleet of around 180 of the DC9/MD80 family of aircraft, it makes sense for them to be interested in taking on the Boeing 717, which is part of the same family.
Of course, the big question for many of us AvGeeks, is will we see a Boeing 717 in Southwest livery before they are handed over to Delta? Unfortunately we will not. “The 717s had not yet begun the retrofit process, so they will transition from AirTran livery to Delta,” Whitney Eichinger with Southwest Public Relations explained to AirlineReporter.com.
Although we may never see a Boeing 717 in Southwest livery in person, luckily there are people out there with great skills to give us an idea of what it would have looked like. I guess we can still be excited to see a 717 in Delta livery, but it won’t be too much different than their DC-9s or MD-80s.
This post is written by aviation and photography enthusiast Drew Vane about the MD-80:
Ahhh. I remember the good ole days when the aircraft were loud, smoked like a B-52 and fuel efficiency was unheard of. No, I’m not talking about the 60’s. I’m talking about yesterday.
An American Airlines MD-83 (Super 80) lifts off of Runway 36C at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
As commercial aircraft manufacturers transitioned from props to jets, Douglas Aircraft Corporation developed a smaller jet aircraft for the shorter range domestic market. The 90—seat DC-9 first flew in 1965 and gave birth to additional series, culminating with the 50-series under the original DC-9 design. McDonnell-Douglas introduced its newest, longer version of the DC-9, fondly called the DC-9 Super 80, or MD-80. This 142-seat product of Long Beach, CA got its start with PSA Airlines (eventually to become US Airways). The MD-80 added 15 feet in length and 20 feet in wingspan, resulting in an additional 28 seats to the 139-seat DC-9-50.
Similarly, the MD-80 family (also called the “Mad Dogs”) has improved with each subsequent version. The MD-88 added aerodynamic improvements for longer range, a redesigned tail-cone, and glass cockpit. The MD-90 upgrade increased capacity to 150 passengers and replaced the Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines with quieter, more fuel efficient IAE V2500 engines. Following the merger of McDonnell-Douglas with Boeing in 1997, a further upgrade, the MD-95, was born which eventually became the 117 seat Boeing 717. The 717 added a more advanced cockpit, more efficient engines, fly-by wire controls, and other features to bring it into the 90’s and beyond. Strangely, the AFC (or Advanced Common Flightdeck) most closely resembles that of the massive MD-11. Over 2,400 DC-9 series aircraft have been produced over the last 40 years.
Look Ma! No Rabies! A Delta Air lines MD-88 slows after landing at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport
Although the seating configuration is a bit skewed (2-3), today you’ll still find these workhorses on domestic routes for Delta, American and Allegiant here in the US. The Boeing 717 is flown in the US by AirTran (soon to be Southwest) and Hawaiian Airlines. As of midway through 2010, there were over 450 Mad Dogs still flying here in the US with 100 or so still active in other countries.
Its been a long time since my last Mad Dog flight but I was pleasantly surprised last November when I flew with my family on an AirTran Boeing 717 down to Florida. The holidays brought free WiFi and the aircraft just felt newer compared to my memories of the Mad Dogs. Here in Charlotte, there are ample opportunities to spot the Airtran 717’s and Delta MD-88’s bound for Atlanta as well as the fully loaded American Super-80 bound for Fort Worth that seems to use every inch of the runway on taking off.
Mad Dog Wannabe: An AirTran Boeing 717 taxis onto Runway 18L at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Unfortunately, the sun is slowly setting on these older aircraft as more eco-friendly, and efficient domestic jets continue to enter the market. American recently announced its plan to replace its fleet of MD-83’s (in addition to its 757’s and 767’s) with re-engined Boeing 737 and Airbus A320neo jets and its expected that Delta will follow in its footsteps to stay competitive. Have you had the opportunity to ride on these gas guzzlers lately? I’d love to hear about your experience.
More info on the background of the MD-80 here and MD-90 here.
All photos by Andrew Vane