On Sept. 4, American Airlines retired the last twenty-six McDonnell Douglas MD-80 aircraft in its fleet. Even though the airframe remains in passenger service with Delta (which operates 62 of the type), fleet numbers are on the decline – at least for units in passenger service. Despite serving a niche market, the number of freighter-converted MD-80s in service, however, is on the rise.
Shortly after American’s last “Mad Dogs” checked in for retirement in the desert near Roswell Airport (ROW), Alaska-based Everts Air Cargo took redelivery of an MD-83 SF (49855, ex-Afrijet Airlines) [FAT 005131]. The aircraft was converted to freighter configuration by AEI at the Commercial Jet facility in Dothan, Alabama (DHN). This is Everts’ fifth MD-80F and the seventeenth freighter-converted MD-80 SF redelivered by AEI since the conversion house received an STC for the program in 2013.
For Everts, the MD-80Fs will gradually replace the carrier’s legacy fleet of DC-9 freighters. Everts acquired nine DC-9-30Fs from Airborne Express/ABX after DHL Express ended its U.S. domestic operations in 2008. The carrier had since operated a handful of the aircraft in commercial service while utilizing the remaining aircraft for spare parts. Everts tells Cargo Facts that while the carrier sees a role for the DC-9F for the foreseeable future, the MD-80 platform clearly represents the future for Evert’s cargo operations.
In a move to ensure the longevity of its MD-80 operations, Everts last year fortified its supply of MD-80 airframes for use as maintenance spares, or as feedstock for further conversions with the acquisition of 15 ex-American MD-80s. With spare parts no longer a concern, Everts has also started to address the next potential bottleneck: flight crews. To avoid the need to send students to the lower-48 for training, as is currently the practice, Everts acquired a level D flight simulator for the MD-80. The simulator is now installed at Everts’ hub in Fairbanks and is expected to receive FAA certification in November. Following certification, the training program plans to induct its first class of trainees in December.
Looking ahead to near-term fleet plans, Everts is not currently planning additional conversions. Should market conditions warrant, however, additional conversions could follow. For now, the carrier has MD-80Fs based in Alaska, and the Lower-48. Apart from the jet freighters, Everts’ freighter fleet also includes four active DC-6 turboprop freighters for operations on unimproved runways in remote parts of the state.
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