Northwest Airlines is planning to retire the last dozen DC10 airplanes in the U.S. that fly passengers, replacing them on prized long-haul routes with newer, more efficient jets that have far more amenities.
The airplanes' retirement could also force out several dozen pilots who are over 60. Federal regulations prohibit pilots who are over 60 from flying as captains or first officers, but allow them to fly as second officers.
The DC10 is one of the few aircraft that requires what was once common -- three-man crews that include a second officer, also known as a flight engineer.
"The DC10 is a reliable airplane, fun to fly, roomy and quiet, kind of like flying an old Cadillac Fleetwood," says Wade Blaufuss, spokesman for the Northwest chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association. "We're sad to see an old friend go."
Most of Northwest's roughly 100 DC10 flight engineers are older pilots who chose to extend their careers, "in order to delay retirement or to make up for pensions that were lost" in airline bankruptcies, says Blaufuss, who flew for five years as a DC10 flight engineer. Northwest also flies the 747-200 made by
Northwest first flew the DC10 in 1972 after placing an order four years earlier. Its DC10 fleet peaked in 2001 with 45 aircraft, including 24 DC10-30s with 273 seats and 21 DC10-40s with 236 seats. By that year, though, the airplane's time was already passing.
"When we landed them in Europe, guys from other airlines would come over and look at them," Blaufuss says. "You don't see them much anymore. They're kind of antiques."
Northwest's remaining 12 DC10 aircraft in service are all from the 30 series, including five of the last six to be built at the old McDonnell Douglas Long Beach, Calif., production facility. The last scheduled DC10 passenger flight in the U.S. will be Northwest Flight 98, currently scheduled to depart Honolulu on Jan. 7, 2007, and arrive in Minneapolis the morning of Jan. 8.
Despite the history, "It's tough to be sentimental about replacing a DC10 with an A330," says Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group. During the next seven months, Northwest will replace the DC10s with new
By the end of October, all Northwest trans-Atlantic flights will be on A330s. The planes are equipped with lie-flat seats in upper classes, new coach seats and interactive, large-screen entertainment systems. Additionally, the plane costs up to 30% less than a DC10-30 to operate because of lower expenses for maintenance and fuel. On the Minneapolis-Amsterdam route, for example, the A330 carries 25 more passengers, yet consumes 6,100 fewer gallons of fuel each way than the DC10.
On routes from Honolulu to Tokyo and Osaka, Northwest plans to replace DC10s with three Boeing 747-400s by Oct. 1.
The three-engine DC10 was the first widebody aircraft to be introduced after the Boeing 747, says consultant Scott Hamilton, who publishes an online newsletter about Airbus and Boeing. It competed with the first middle-market airplane, the Lockheed 1011. The L1011 was flown by
Today, the largest DC-10 operator is
In a move to grow its international business, Northwest Airlines is buying 18 Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" jets and has options to buy 50 more in the future.
Northwest Airlines is seeking a bankruptcy judge's approval to return another 100 planes to leasing companies. That would be in addition to 115 already authorized.
The airline said that during the next seven months, it will replace DC10 aircraft with new Airbus A330s and Boeing 747-400 aircraft being returned to service.
The bankrupt carrier is pressing to shift midsize jet flying and some baggage handling work to subsidiaries, angering pilots and ground workers.