Nine Lives of the DC-9

Everts Air Cargo DC-9-30CF

In January the sun will finally set on the DC-9 as a first-tier passenger aircraft, when Delta retires its remaining DC-9-50 aircraft (final flight scheduled for Jan. 5, 2014, catch them while you can), inherited from that carrier’s 2009 merger with Northwest Airlines. If you want to fly as a passenger on a DC-9, you’ll have to charter one from a variety of small operators or fly to Venezuela or Kenya, where some operators are still flying them in passenger service. You’ll still be able to fly on other DC-9 variants (MD-80, MD-90, Boeing 717) for some time to come, but the classics are not long for pax service. Still, they’ve had an amazingly long run – the final DC-9-50 rolled off the line in 1982, and Delta’s small remaining active fleet was built between 1975 and 1980.

Like the DC-8 before it, however, the DC-9 remains popular as a niche aircraft with some freight operators, primarily charter carriers, for its low capital cost, flexiblity, and famous durability. Also, as some DC-9 variants (-10 and -30) were built at the factory with large cargo doors, they were attractive options for freight service long before they stopped being attractive to passenger airlines. With the option of AEI’s MD-80 conversion program, DC-9 variants will likely be hauling freight for some time to come.

This particular DC-9-33 (msn: 47363) was built as a quick-change aircraft, with a large cargo door, for Martinair in 1969, and flew with that carrier until 1983. In 1984, it was bought by Airborne Express, who used a large fleet of DC-9s from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s (from 2003 as ABX Air) to haul domestic express freight. Many of these aircraft did not have large cargo doors but used the C-container system developed by Airborne to use for loading via pax doors.

In 2009, Everts Air Cargo acquired this aircraft and four other then-stored DC-9 freighters, all former Airborne Express/ABX Air aircraft, and currently operates three of them in regular service around Alaska and, as seen here at Paine Field, sometimes down to the lower 48 states.

Everts Air Cargo’s main role is providing freight and mail within the harsh terrain of Alaska, with hubs at Nome, Unalakleet, St. Mary’s, Aniak, Bethel, Dillingham, King Salmon, and more. Everts’ main bases are at Fairbanks and Anchorage.

The carrier’s fleet is amazingly diverse – including the Curtiss Commando, Douglas DC-6, Embraer Brasilia, Pilatus PC-12, Cessna 208, and Piper Lance, in addition to the DC-9s. Earlier this year, Everts also became the first customer to receive one of AEI’s converted MD-80s.

© Photographer: Alex Kwanten

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