Why Is AA's MD-80 Still In Use?

04/19/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Justin Bachman BusinessWeek

The jet at the center of American Airlines' flight travails gulps gas and rumbles about in a far noisier fashion than newer models. It first took flight nearly 30 years ago and today is greeted by some passengers as a technology-deprived torture chamber. Yet despite its age and costs, the MD-80 remains a valued and dependable workhorse in airline fleets worldwide--which points to the many nuances in assessing flight safety at a time of heightened concern about aircraft maintenance.

American--which dubs the plane the Super80--is the world's largest operator of the jets, with 300, while Delta Air Lines (DAL) flies 117. In Europe, Alitalia and SAS Scandinavian Airlines are also major operators.

"The MD-80 has been a terrific airplane for American Airlines," Gerard Arpey, chairman and chief executive of American parent AMR (AMR), said at an Apr. 10 news conference to discuss the airline's 2,500 flight cancellations this week. "This [incident] will have no impact on our long-term fleet plans. The bigger issue for the MD-80 will be oil prices."

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