Wings Magazine

Delta retires its 35-year-old fleet of DC9s

Jan. 7, 2014, Minneapolis, Mn. - Delta Air Lines is retiring its last DC-9s, the oldest passenger plane in the fleet of the big U.S. airlines.

January 7, 2014  By The Associated Press

Delta operated the final passenger flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta Monday evening.


McDonnell Douglas
delivered the first DC-9s in 1965, and eventually built 976 of them. The
plane was noteworthy at the time because it was small enough to fly to
airports in smaller cities that had previously been served by
propeller-driven planes. Its low-to-the-ground profile put its cargo
door at about waist height, so ground crews at smaller airports could
load it without special equipment.



The plane flew for Delta, Continental and
several smaller regional airlines. The one flown on the final scheduled
flight on Monday was built in 1978 and went to North Central Airlines.
Its fate after that mirrors the merger wave that rolled through the
whole airline industry. A combination of North Central and other
airlines formed Republic Airlines, which merged with Northwest Airlines
in the 1980s. Delta bought Northwest in 2008.


Most airlines retired the
DC-9s by the 1990s. But instead of retiring them, Northwest in 1995
refurbished their interiors to squeeze more flying out of them. Federal
rules don't limit how many years a plane can fly, only how many takeoffs
and landings. As long as it stayed under those limits, the DC-9s could
keep flying.


At one time the planes made up almost
one-third of Northwest's fleet. As of Monday Delta was down to its last
six. It's keeping two planes as spares for a few more weeks.


In an era when planes all
have digital instruments, the DC-9 cockpit stands out for its dials. The
plane doesn't have a flight management computer that handles many of
the routine flying tasks on newer planes, said Delta's DC-9 chief line
check pilot Scott Woolfrey, who specifically asked to pilot the plane's
last flight. "It's a pilot's airplane," he said before the flight on


The final flight prompted dozens of
aviation enthusiasts to buy tickets, and they lined up at the window to
watch the plane come in from LaGuardia airport in New York.


Delta is known for buying used
airplanes and flying them longer than other airlines. Even Delta's DC-9
replacement — used Boeing 717s from AirTran— is a hand-me-down. Delta
is giving those planes new interiors and adding Wi-Fi as it brings them
into its fleet. The 717, along with the MD-90s that Delta has also been
buying used, are both descendants of the DC-9.


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