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Northwest Set To Retire Its Last DC-10s

Workhorse Plane Introduced in 1972

Talk about the end of an era.... Northwest is taking its DC-10s out of scheduled passenger service, after more than 30 years. The final flight was scheduled to leave Honolulu Sunday, and arrive in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN early Monday morning.

Northwest's inaugural DC-10 flight in 1972 went from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee, and on to Tampa, FL.

Tim Rainey, a Northwest senior vice president who oversees flight operations, called the DC-10 the carrier's "utility infielder."

"It could do just about any mission that you asked it to do," Rainey said. "We had that airplane flying in Asia as far as Singapore and had it in the Atlantic all the way down to Bombay, India."

Economics and advancing technology have grounded the DC-10, however. Northwest decided to accelerate the retirement of the three-engine DC-10, which requires a three-pilot crew, in large part because the new twin-engine Airbus A330 saves up to 30 percent on fuel costs and requires only two pilots.

Northwest's DC-10 fleet peaked in 2001 at 45 airplanes. The last of the DC-10-40s, which seated 236 people, was removed in late 2002, and in recent months Northwest operated a dozen of the 273-passenger DC-10-30s, including five of the last six built by McDonnell Douglas.

During the past few months, the airline's DC-10s have been flying only between the Twin Cities and Honolulu. Rainey said the Northwest DC-10s will be used by other carriers, primarily for charter flights.

Airline expert Terry Trippler said consumers liked the 2-5-2 seating configuration on the DC-10, in which there were aisles on both sides of a five-seat bank and two-seat sections next to windows.

The DC-10 was a good plane for Northwest during the 1970s, '80s and '90s, Trippler added, but Northwest needed to acquire modern planes to compete for passengers on international flights who want comfortable seats and entertainment systems that allow customers to choose their own movies and music.

Marty Wahoske, corporate travel manager for Tennant Corp., said consumer perceptions of the DC-10 changed over time. Tennant's European headquarters is in the Netherlands, and Wahoske said many of his company's employees preferred avoiding to fly on a DC-10 from the Twin Cities to Amsterdam.

"Our preference of travel was on the A330," Wahoske said. "The DC-10 was a tired airplane in terms of its comfort," with Tennant travelers preferring the lie-flat seats and entertainment systems on the modern A330s. Northwest phased out the last Amsterdam DC-10 flight in October.



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