Delta Air Lines MD-90 (N908DA) in older livery with Mt. Rainier in the background.

Delta Air Lines MD-90 (N908DA) in older livery with Mt. Rainier in the background.

Delta Air Lines has a very diverse fleet of aircraft. Delta currently flies the Boeing 737-700 and -800, the Airbus A319 and A320, the DC-9, MD-88 and has been adding additional MD-90s — which all compete with each other. A while back Delta announced they would be replacing their older DC-9s with newer aircraft and at first I assumed it might be with Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s in a move to simplify their fleet by getting rid of the entire DC-9/MD-80 family, but it looks like they are going to upgrade it. Why would Delta buy MD-90s instead of Boeing 737s or Airbus A320s? I think there are a few reasons.

The biggest is cost. To pick up a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 it is going to cost a heck of a lot more than purchasing a used MD-90. Yes, Delta will have to pay to re-do the interiors and the planes won’t be as fuel efficient as a brand new model, but the over all costs will still remain lower. Delta has a huge maintenance facility in Atlanta and would most likely continue to work on DC-9/MD-80 aircraft from other airlines, even if they got rid of their own fleet.

The MD-90s allows Delta to back fill the DC-9s and save additional time before completing an entire fleet renewal program. Delta just announced buying nine MD-90s from Japan Airlines (JAL) and they hope to find more in the future. Delta’s President Ed Bastian stated at a December investor presentation that Delta hopes to purchase about 50 MD-90 aircraft over the next two years.

Since Delta is looking to get so many MD-90 aircraft, could it make sense to purchase some Boeing 717s which are based off the MD-90? Maybe. Recently Southwest purchased AirTran, which has over 85 Boeing 717s. Currently, Southwest only has a fleet of Boeing 737s, it could be possibly they would want to be rid of the 717s. The problem is that Southwest is locked into a contract with Boeing for the aircraft and it is unlikely Boeing would want to let them out.  If Delta plans to purchase a significant amount of new Boeing aircraft in the future, it could be negotiated to let Southwest out of their contract early (with Southwest’s approval, of course), allowing Delta to take control of the 717s.

“The MD-90 is a cost-effective aircraft that helps us more efficiently maintain our flying levels as we retire regional jets and DC-9s, so the additions won’t increase our capacity.” Delta spokesperson Trebor Banstetter told AirlineReporter.com. “We’ll continue to look for opportunities to acquire used MD-90s in the future as we retire DC-9s and smaller jets.”

Either way, I like the ‘ol MD-80 maddog family. I hear so many people complain about the aircraft and sure if you are sitting in the back by the engines, they can be a bit annoying. However, I love that 2-3 layout and the sound of their engines at full throttle during takeoff. I am glad to see an American airline will be keeping the maddog alive for years to come.

Image: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

 

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

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12 Comments

“Delta currently flies the Boeing 737-700 and -800, the Airbus A319 and A329, the DC-9, MD-88 and has been adding additional MD-90s”

Umm A329? Did I miss the super-stretched A320 or shortened A330 😉

Oops, Airbus made me promise not to share their super new A329 🙂

Thanks, updated.

David

You forgot one important reason: The pilots union. MD-88s, -90s and DC-9’s are unique in that they are not FMC driven like the Boeings and Airbuses. They’re old school all the way (even though an FMC [flight management computer] is used for guidance). Pilots rated in a 737 can more easily transition to the 757/767 than a good ole DC-9 pilot who never saw an FMC before. MD pilots are not going to settle for downgrading into a rejional jet or prop plane just to keep their jobs. I think the maddog fleet will be around for quite some time.

Long live the steam gauges!!!!! (Notice that nowhere did I reference bringing back the 727 in this post). 🙂

The MD-90 actually uses the same engine type as the A320 family. I believe Delta is moving to have 60+ MD-90s in the fleet. There are a bunch right now awaiting mods. I do believe Delta is updating the cockpits on the MD-88s to match the MD-90s and the DC-9 retirement will be accelerated (after 4 airlines and 35+ years).

I was with you until you said: I am glad to see an American airline will be keeping the maddog alive for years to come.

As a fan, I love them too. They are wonderful, historic aircraft that never seem to wear out. Unquestionable build quality.

As a passenger, I’ve grown to loath them. The AA interiors are ratty, there is not enough bin space — which is an even biggter problem now that AA charges for bags and pax try to carry everything they own onboard. They were, and remain, very noisy. The seats are terribly uncomfortable.

Cameron M

You should try the Delta MD-88, I can honestly say one of the most comfortable aircraft I have ever flown on.

Another good reason DL won’t go after the 717s is size–the 717 holds 117 pax (at least in AirTran’s config) and the MD-90 holds 160. Generally, the fixed costs aren’t that much different within a general class of aircraft, (although the 160 will require an additional flight attendant). So, the larger the plane, the lower the seat/mile cost.

Add to this the the 717 is starting to buck up against the size of regional aircraft, which for the legacy airline are cheaper to operate, so the combination of these things makes it unlikely DL will bite.

At some point, DL will have to rationalize their fleet. They’ve got far too many types of aircraft–NW and DL were almost completely incompatible in this regard. UA and CO will have it somewhat easier, since there are several overlapping types in their fleets (757, 767, 777). The main difference is in their domestic fleets between UA’s Airbii and CO’s 737NGs.

Sanjeev M

But I think the problem with the interiors is confined to AA. DL maintains their DC-9’s impeccably, and much much better than AA’s MD80’s.

DL interior mod people need to be congratulated. Additionally, the MD90’s have high bypass engines, which I’ve heard is useful in high altitudes like SLC.

John P

The MD 90 is far quieter than any of the MD8x acft.

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