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Sat, Oct 20, 2007

NWA Pumps Up International Fleet; DC-9s Remain On Domestic Routes

The New... And The Grey

If nothing else, Northwest Airlines is a study in contrasts... as evidenced this week by the Eagan, MN-based airline's proud announcement it boasts one of the youngest fleets of aircraft available on international routes.

Northwest CEO Doug Steenland made that proclamation Thursday, as the airline accepted its 32nd Airbus A330. "With this delivery we now have the youngest international fleet of any North American carrier," Steenland said. The airline also notes it has the largest fleet of A330s in the world, according to The Associated Press.

It wasn't long ago Northwest counted on one of the oldest fleets of aircraft flying international routes. As ANN reported, the carrier retired its last Douglas DC-10 trijet in January; the carrier's last 747-200 followed in September.

That leaves the airline's Boeing 747-400s, 757s and the A330s to handle international routes for Northwest, until the airline's first Boeing 787s come online. The airline was to receive its first Dreamliner in August 2008; with a recently-announced six-month delay in that program, however, that date slipped to February 2009.

For all the airline's boasting about its international fleet, however, it's hard to ignore Northwest also flies the oldest fleet of aircraft in domestic service.

Much of the airline's mainline intra-US routes are flown with aged Douglas DC-9s. As of 2004, Northwest's 150 DC-9s averaged 34 years old.

Steenland said the airline is looking into when -- and whether -- to replace the DC-9s, and expects a decision to be made sometime next year. The airline is interested in an equivalent, modern 100-seater built from composites, Steenland said... but, of course, such a plane does not yet exist.

Say what you will about the DC-9s, which have legions of critics and admirers alike... but the planes are a good fit for Northwest. For starters, Northwest owns its DC-9s outright.

While the DC-9s are relative gas-hogs compared to the more-modern Airbus A319s and A320s also in Northwest's mainline fleet, much of that cost disadvantage is offset by the lack of costly lease payments.

Within the last five years, Northwest also outfitted its DC-9 fleet with new interiors, as well... meaning the part most passengers see, and probably care most about, is relatively modern in appearance.

FMI: www.nwa.com

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