Every airliner model has a few predictable milestones in its life, from rollout first flight to ageing to winning a place in the hearts, minds and bottoms of the frequent flyers who love to complain about it. Then comes retirement and a place in the hearts and minds of frequent fliers who miss it and remember it and complains about how it should never have been retired. So now with word that Northwest is finally getting serious about retiring its vast armada of DC9s, including some of the very early DC9 variants, we wonder how soon the nostalgia will follow. After all, even a plane as disliked as the old Lockheed Tri-Star had fans when Delta got rid of theirs at the beginning of this century. Now though the pilots union at Northwest says that the airline plans to cuts its fleet from 103 of the twins down to 69 by the end of the year. The airline confirms that this is indeed the case, but stresses it will still be hiring pilots for growth.
Northwest has used the DC9s as a capacity hedge: they’re fully depreciated so they didn’t cost anything to own, and the airline has always had plenty of maintenance staff and infrastructure, so they were cheap-to-keep. Only the price of fuel made put them a disadvantage, but it was so easy to take the 100-seaters out of service during downturns that they were a flexibility tool. Northwest actually did the right thing with the DC9s, back in 1995, when it spent heavily to refurbish the interiors and overhaul the structures. While blogs and message boards suggest that Northwest passengers were starting to tire of even the rehabbed DC9s, they seemed to have a tolerance for the planes, some of which Northwest inherited from early mergers such as its takeover of Republic. Of course, the other predictable is speculation about a replacement model. But given Northwest’s history of using the DC9 as almost disposable planes, maybe it’s early to look for a big order.