Happy New Year! Heck, happy new decade while we’re at it.
With the closing of each year I invest a considerable amount of time in reflection before setting my goals and aspirations for the future. A perennial resolution I have set (and then catastrophically failed to meet) has been to make sense of the ~150K+ PlaneSpotting photos I have amassed since diving into the hobby over the summer of 2009.
While trying to determine what goal – if any – I would set around this, an intriguing question dawned on me. How has PlaneSpotting changed in the past decade? Sure, we didn’t have JetTip, ADSBexchange, or FlightRadar24 to allow for surgical, dare I say lazy, spotting. We just had to show up, maybe listen to ATC, and see what the day would bring. But how has what we might see changed?
Well, I have photographic proof of what aviation looked like at a number of airports over the course of 2010. In retrospect, it was a good travel and spotting year for me. What if, perhaps, I set a mini goal to at the very least look at every photo shot over that one year and highlight particular items of note? I spent a number of hours over the past weekend doing just that. One clear difference? My skill and equipment have come a long way over the past decade! But I digress.
Click through to join me for a stroll down AvGeek memory lane for a year which proved transformational to the AvGeek world.
Delta and Northwest
Delta was still transitioning away from their early 2000s-era ‘Colors in Motion’ livery. Is that name not familiar? This paint attracted a lot of undue criticism and silly nicknames such as Wavy Gravy, Flowing Fabric, and my personal favorite: Deltaflot, due to the tail’s similarity to that of Russian carrier Aeroflot.
The current-day standard Onward and Upward livery had been announced in 2007 but was slow to roll out. So three years later there still existed a great deal of limited-time-only-liveried Delta birds.
The Gem of Georgia was also hard at work integrating Northwest into their operations. Despite the merger closing in late 2008, opportunities to spot Northwest’s various liveries and cool retro planes were still common. I would respectfully submit that the best spotting of 2010 was between the combined Delta and Northwest fleets.
American’s Mad Dogs shined with pride
There’s not much to report on the PlaneSpotting front for American Airlines in 2010. The ubiquitous Super-80s lived up their name: They were super-everywhere and you’d be hard pressed to visit any airport of significance and not see at least a few. Then, just as in 2019, eagle-eyed plane spotters could still find MD-80s carried over from the TWA buyout in 2001. Sadly, the American Airlines (former TWA) overhaul base at Kansas City International pictured above would be fully shuttered in September 2010.
Continental and United
Isn’t it refreshing to see the word Continental on the Continental livery? Folks will recall that 2010 was the year Continental would be absorbed by United. Much to the chagrin of many a Saul Bass tulip fan, United decided to co-opt Continental’s paint scheme. United swiftly rebranded Continental’s planes, in many cases leaving a bright and shiny new name patch on otherwise weathered paint. It wasn’t a great look.
While Continental’s branding was eliminated with shocking speed, United took their sweet time in repainting their own planes. At the time, their fleet sported at least two legacy liveries: The Blue Tulip, and an older predecessor which would affectionately be referred to as the Battleship livery. Both paint schemes, we should note, incorporated different versions of the Saul Bass tulip. Many reasonably speculated that between the hasty and sloppy process by which Continental’s name was simply painted over, and the slow conversion of United’s fleet, a new livery had to be on the horizon. Who would have thought that it would take almost ten years to come up with something, and that this “something” would be nothing more than a color adjustment?
Republic’s Great Gamble
In 2009, at the hands of ambitious CEO Bryan Bedford, Republic Airways decided they had what it took to transition from regional operator to full-fledged big-time airline (retroactive spoiler alert – they didn’t.) Republic scooped up Frontier and Midwest for $108 and $75 million, respectively. By 2010, the beautiful and iconic Midwest livery adorned Republic-owned (and operated) Embraer E-Jets. Midwest was essentially dead, with the last 717 flight operated by Midwest employees occurring in 2009.
2010 would be the year Republic broke their commitment to keep the Midwest and Frontier brands distinct. Midwest would ultimately consolidate into Frontier. The joint airline was eventually sold off for a paltry $36 million in cash plus assumption of $109 million in debt. One great airline, significant combined market-share, hundreds of jobs, and $38 million in wealth would vaporize at the hands of Republic. But at least we got to see the Midwest and Frontier liveries on Embraers, albeit briefly.
Freight airlines had cool stuff in their fleets too
FedEx still operated the smoky, loud, and sexy Boeing 727s. Additionally, a few Airbus A310s remained in the fleet. Remember those? They were the stubby small younger brother of the A300. While their final A310 was retired at the start of this year, the A300s still run to this day. Spot them while you still can; the 68 or so remaining are due to be fully retired by some point in 2021.
Speaking of the 727, let’s not forget Capital Cargo International. Despite a tiny slice of Cappy’s 11-plane fleet being 727s, they sure got around. This carrier eventually merged with ATI and with that, their 727s were allowed to retire.
Many of 2010’s airlines no longer exist
Of all the three essential air service (EAS) carriers I sampled in 2010, Seaport was my favorite. They flew Pilatus PC-12s which were unique and comfortable given their small size. Additionally, what AvGeek could pass up MCI-HRO-MEM routing for $155 one-way? Sadly Seaport ceased operations in September 2016.
Flying Great Lakes was not only my first EAS experience, but the first propeller-driven aircraft I was old enough to remember flying. And dang it was fun. They loved their Beech 1900s and Embraer EMB-120s. The Cheyenne, WY-based airline concluded service in March 2018.
The rebirth of ValuJet was not only alive but thriving, thanks in part due to their (then) shiny new fleet of MD-95, er, Boeing 717s. As we know, AirTran was destined to ultimately pair up with Southwest, but in 2010 they weren’t quite done giving everyone a run for their money.
USA3000 is one of the airlines that got away from me. And by that, I mean I fully intended to try them out but they stopped flying before I could get around to it. While they existed for over a decade, they had trouble growing and just couldn’t make it work. Their two planes went to Viva Colombia.
Aside from a delightfully appealing house livery, perhaps the best thing Colgan will be remembered for is the devastating crash of Continental Flight 3407. There is a silver lining here. The investigation and resulting regulations (passed in 2010) directly led to incredible advancements in aviation safety.
Planes destined to become museum pieces were still flying
N300SW was the first 737-300 delivered by Boeing. It went to launch customer Southwest Airlines. This plane and one other were assigned nose decals dubbing them each the Spirit of Kittyhawk. It is now at the Frontiers of Flight Museum near Dallas Love Field. Visitors to the museum can go onboard to learn about Southwest’s history and even see one of Herb Kelleher’s Harley Davidson motorcycles in the back.
N675MC is now a part of the Delta Museum collection in Atlanta, Georgia.
Other cool things you might have seen while PlaneSpotting in 2010
Thanks for joining me for a photo tour of PlaneSpotting in 2010. Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different? This list certainly is not comprehensive. However it does represent the items which stuck out to me as being unique or different compared to present-day.
We want to hear from you in the comments! Did I miss any 2010 items you are particularly nostalgic for? What are your favorite aviation memories from 2010? Would you like to see more of the retrospective type posts like this?