The last of American Airlines’ McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 aircraft arrived Wednesday at the Roswell International Air Center, retired from the fleet after 36 years in a ceremony that was a mix of heartfelt tributes and Hollywood-style glitz.
“This airplane is about people and what this airplane meant to the people of American Airlines,” said Doug Parker, chief executive officer of American Airlines, during an afternoon press and employee event inside and outside Hangar 1536 that included a red carpet for team member arrivals, sparkle fountains and 1980s rock music.
“I, like anyone who joined American Airlines, knows full well how important the MD-80 was and is to American Airlines,” Parker said.
The airline was flying in 23 of the aircraft Wednesday, with another three to be donated or used for training. The aircraft brought with them not only flight crews but about 120 employees who won a drawing to fly into the city for a couple of hours to participate in the ceremony.
“This is the last of an era,” said Steve Ladue, a pilot based at Dallas-Fort Worth who flew MD-80s for more than 17 years. “This is the last of the old-style airplanes. The newer ones are all (computerized).”
This year’s delivery of the aircraft follows the retirement in Roswell of about 20 “Super 80s” in August 2016 during an event that also drew city of Roswell dignitaries and reporters and photographers from various news and special interest media organizations.
At its peak, the airline had about 360 MD-80s in its fleet, according to spokeswoman Linda Brock. Now its planes, including its primary aircraft, the 737, are considered more cost-efficient and provide more of what today’s customers want.
“Thank you for entrusting these jewels,” said Mayor Dennis Kintigh. “That’s what they are. They carried people. You poured your lives into them. You have flown them. These are important planes to you. We all understand how this works because we are old enough to understand seasons. There are seasons in our lives. There are seasons in aircraft lives.”
Kintigh presented Parker with a gold key to the city, while thanking American Airlines for its partnership with Roswell.
The ceremony also included remarks by Senior Vice President Ron De Feo, who made introductions; retired pilot Captain John Wilt, who trained on the MD-80s when they were first introduced in 1983; Brian Kilian, an American Airlines Federal Credit Union manager; and Kisha Hardaway, a senior analyst who had responsibility for planning for the retirement of Super 80s.
Kilian kept logbooks of his MD-80 flights, counting 127 unique MD-80 aircraft he has been on over the years with friends and four generations of family. He also has a tattoo of the tail number of the last flight he and his dad flew on together.
For Roswell, the retirement means work for one of the major maintenance and repair organizations at the airfield. AerSale, based in Coral Gables, Florida, is expected to maintain the leased airplanes on a regular basis for at least a couple of years until the leases expire.
Senior writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.