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Aviation Blog

The Story Of American Airlines’ McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Fleet – Simple Flying

Challenger 604

US manufacturer McDonnell Douglas produced almost 1,200 aircraft from its rear-engined MD-80 series between 1979 and 1999. Of these, hundreds flew for Fort Worth-based US legacy carrier and oneworld founding member American Airlines. Let’s take a look at American’s relationship with the MD-80, and the different variants it operated.
The most numerous McDonnell Douglas MD-80 variant operated by American Airlines was the MD-82. This version of the rear-engined twinjet offered more powerful engines than the original MD-81, which made it an ideal aircraft for ‘hot and high’ operations. According to data from ch-aviation.com, American Airlines operated an impressive total of 269 MD-82s.
The first of these joined the carrier in May 1983, just over two years after the type’s first flight. Arrivals continued steadily throughout the 1980s and 1990s. A final flourish of MD-82s joined American Airlines in December 2001. These were all ex-Trans World Airlines aircraft, acquired by American TWA was merged into the Fort Worth-based airline.
The MD-82’s story at American came to an end in September 2019, when the carrier finally retired the type (and the family as a whole) after 36 years of service. Skin tags from one of the retired ‘Mad Dogs’ were made available for purchase, allowing the type’s legacy to continue in the form of 9,000 limited edition keyrings costing €29.95 each.
American Airlines also operated a three-figure contingent of MD-83s, totaling 108 examples. The purpose of the MD-83 was to offer a greater range than the MD-80 family’s existing MD-81 and MD-82 variants. It achieved this with more powerful engines, and a higher maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) which enabled the type to have a greater fuel capacity.
The MD-83 came to American Airlines a little later than the aforementioned MD-82, with the first arrivals occurring in June 1987. The stream of incoming MD-83s continued until September that year, before pausing until September 1991. From then until September 1992, the arrivals continued, before another hiatus that lasted until 1999.
August 1999 saw a handful of MD-83s join American after Reno Air was merged into it. However, the most significant batch was the ex-TWA contingent, which saw over 60 examples come onboard in December 2001. September 2019 also marked the MD-83’s retirement at American Airlines, although it has retained one as a de-icing trainer.
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While American operated hundreds of MD-82s and MD-83s, it is also worth briefly touching upon its less numerous variants of the Mad Dog. For example, data from ch-aviation shows that it flew five examples of the short-fuselage MD-87. However, these ex-Reno Air jets were only a short-term fixture and served American between 1999 and 2001.
Finally, according to airfleets.net, American’s merger with TWA in December 2001 saw it take on eight examples of the MD-80 family’s original MD-81 variant. These aircraft also had a limited lifespan at American. Indeed, airfleets.net notes that, by 2003, they had all been stored in Kansas City, Roswell, and St Louis. By 2007, certain examples had been scrapped.
What are your memories of American Airlines’ MD-80 fleet? Did you have a particular favorite variant? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
Journalist – A graduate in German, Jake has a passion for aviation history, and enjoys sampling new carriers and aircraft even if doing so demands an unorthodox itinerary. A keen amateur photographer, he also recently reached the milestone of flying his 100th sector as a passenger. Based in Norwich, UK.

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