McDonnell Douglas MD-11 farewell

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Miscellaneous Spotting, Netherlands, Western Europe | Posted on 10-11-2014

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(c) KLM

(c) KLM

The final commercial passenger flight of the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 took place on 26th October when KLM flew PH-KCE from Montreal to Amsterdam Schiphol.

On 11th November the airline will formally retire the type by performing three special flights for enthusiasts to get a last chance to experience the aircraft before its retirement. KLMs aircraft are all destined to be parted out and scrapped, with a number of the fleet already falling to this fate.

 

History of the MD-11

The MD-11 came about as McDonnell Douglas sought to develop a replacement for its iconic DC-10 wide-body airliner.

First flown in 1970, the DC-10 had a chequered start with a number of high-profile crashes. However, it would go on to become a major player in the long-haul and high-density short-haul routes of many of the world’s major airlines. Key operators included American Airlines, Japan Airlines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines.

As early as 1976 a replacement had been discussed. The DC-10 flew in three different variants (the -10, -30 and -40), but the MD-11 would become a completely revised aircraft aimed at recapturing the long-haul market with its low operating costs and attractive range.

Seeing the opportunity, Alitalia, British Caledonian, Dragonair, FedEx Express, Finnair, Korean Air, SAS, Swissair, Thai Airways International, and VARIG all made early commitments for the aircraft and it was formally launched in December 1986.

The first flight of the MD-11 took place on 10th January 1990 at Long Beach, CA, after a number of delays. Following a period of testing and certification, the first aircraft was delivered to launch customer Finnair on 7th December 1990. The first commercial flight of the MD-11 took place on 20th December from Helsinki to Tenerife South.

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines were early customers for the MD-11 in the United States. Delta was the first in the country to operate the type.

The MD-11, like the DC-10, is a three-engined, wide-body aircraft. Engines are located one under each wing, with a third mounted at the base of the tail. It offered a modern glass cockpit, eliminating the Flight Engineer position from the DC-10. Passenger capacity was typically 270 in a mixed-class layout, or over 300 in all-Economy seating. One identifying difference from the DC-10 is the addition of winglets on each wingtip.

 

Disappointing Performance

Fairly early in its operational career it became apparent that the MD-11 was not living up to the promised performance statistics – particularly in terms of its range. At full payloads, the aircraft was only managing a range of around 6,500 miles, instead of the promised 7,000. This caused a number of airlines to complain or cancel orders, including Singapore Airlines.

Although modifications were completed by 1995 to restore the range of the aircraft, it had already suffered irreparable negative publicity and a lack of confidence from airlines who were starting to look at new offerings from Airbus and Boeing.

 

By Montague Smith [GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons

Freighter Renaissance

Despite Boeing purchasing McDonnell Douglas in 1997, it was decided to keep the MD-11 in production but only as freighter as by this time it had no interest from airlines for the passenger variant (it wanted to focus on its 767 and 777 models anyway).

The MD-11 was proving to be quite a success as a freighter aircraft. FedEx Express had started the ball rolling by ordering a number of aircraft as a natural continuation of its sizeable DC-10 fleet. Now, a programme of modifying passenger versions into freighters was taking place.

American Airlines, who were unhappy with their aircraft, eventually sold all of them to FedEx for conversion into freighters. It was a similar story for a number of other airlines, including Alitalia, Finnair and Delta who all retired their MD-11s relatively early and saw them turned into cargo-carrying aircraft. UPS Airlines would also become a significant operator of the MD-11.

The final aircraft of the 200 MD-11s to be built were destined for Lufthansa Cargo as dedicated freighter variants. The last MD-11 was delivered in February 2001.

 

By Leviescobar [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Leviescobar [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Operators

The following airline operated the MD-11

  • Aer Lingus (leased)
  • Aeroflot Cargo
  • Air Namibia
  • Alitalia
  • American Airlines
  • AV Cargo Airlines
  • Avianca (leased)
  • Avient
  • Cargoitalia
  • Centurion Air Cargo
  • China Airlines
  • China Cargo Airlines
  • China Eastern Airline
  • Cielos Airlines
  • City Bird
  • Delta Air Lines
  • El Al (leased)
  • Ethiopian Airlines Cargo
  • Etihad Airways (leased)
  • EVA Air
  • FedEx Express
  • Finnair
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Gemini Air Cargo
  • Ghana Airways
  • Japan Airlines
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • LTU International
  • Lufthansa Cargo
  • MASkargo
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Martinair
  • Mid East Jet
  • Monarch Airlines
  • Nordic Global Airlines
  • Philippine Airlines
  • SABENA
  • Saudia
  • Shanghai Airlines Cargo
  • Star Airlines
  • Swissair / Swiss International Airlines
  • TAM
  • Tradewinds / SkyLease Cargo
  • Thai Airways International
  • Trans Aer
  • Transmile Air Services
  • UPS Airlines
  • USAfrica Airways (leased)
  • VARIG
  • VASP
  • Western Global Airlines
  • World Airways

Of those operators, only those highlighted in bold are still operating the aircraft today.

KLM were the last to fly passengers on the MD-11. However, World Airways flew passengers on their aircraft until the airline went out of business in early 2014.

At the end of this article you can download a free list of all active MD-11s, including those stored but still in one piece.

MD-11 Saudia

By Biggerben [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Where to see MD-11s today

As already mentioned, the only airlines still flying MD-11s are cargo operators now that KLM have retired their passenger examples.

The principal operators today are FedEx Express and UPS Airlines.

FedEx’s main base, and the main hub of MD-11 operations, is Memphis Airport in Tennessee. Other bases which its MD-11s stage through include Paris Charle de Gaulle, Toronto Pearson, Guangzhou, and Osaka Kansai.

UPS’s principal hub is Louisville International Airport in Kentucky. It also has significant bases such as Cologne/Bonn, Hong Kong and Shanghai Pudong.

Lufthansa Cargo flies its MD-11s from its Frankfurt Main hub, with most passing through over a 2-3 day period.

Martinair’s cargo operation keeps Amsterdam Schiphol alive as a MD-11 base, whilst Nordic Global Airlines has also meant Helsinki retains regular flights after Finnair retired its aircraft.

Other airports you’ll see regular MD-11s at include Addis Ababa, Anchorage Ted StevensBogota, Liege, Ostend and Miami International.

 

Incidents

Despite only 200 airframes being built, the MD-11 has suffered a disproportionate number of accidents in its short life.

Pilots often commented on the unusual landing characteristics of the MD-11, particularly during crosswind conditions, and a number of examples have been involved in landing accidents resulting in hull losses and, in some cases, loss of life. The following accidents have occurred:

  • 31st July 1997, FedEx N611FE crashed on landing at New York Newark airport
  • 2nd September 1998, Swissair HB-IWF crashed into sea near Halifax, Nova Scotia, following in-flight fire.
  • 15th April 1999, Korean Air Cargo HL7373 crashed after takeoff from Shanghai Hongqiao airport.
  • 22nd August 1999, Mandarin Airlines B-150 crashed on landing at Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok during a typhoon.
  • 17th October 1999, FedEx N581FE crashed on landing at Subic Bay airport in the Philippines.
  • 23rd March 2009, FedEx N526FE crashed on landing at Tokyo Narita during windy conditions.
  • 28th November 2009, Avient Z-BAV crashed on takeoff from Shanghai Pudong airport.
  • 27th July 2010, Lufthansa Cargo D-ALCQ crashed on landing at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
By Lasse Fuss [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Lasse Fuss [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Preservation

The MD-11 is now in its twilight years, but as yet there has been no serious moves to preserve any examples in a museum or aircraft collection. Some would say it is too early to propose this, given the type is still fairly active with many cargo airlines and has a number of years’ active service left in it; it is also only 24 years old and hardly a strong candidate for a historical item. Maybe you disagree (leave a comment below).

However, given the type’s passing from commercial passenger services and the strong feeling amongst the aviation enthusiast community for this aircraft (often in combination with its DC-10 and Douglas heritage), a number of people have been asking for one of KLM’s examples to be preserved. A Facebook group was formed to campaign for the move, and it was hoped an example would be sent to the Aviodrome museum at Lelystad, near Amsterdam (which also holds former KLM Boeing 747, Fokker 100, F27, DC-2, DC-3 and Lockheed Constellation). However, costs and the potential income from spare parts have prohibited this from becoming a reality.

 

For me, the MD-11 was one of those underdog airliners, like the Trident and BAe ATP, which set out to make a difference and had all the right credentials to make it big. In the case of the MD-11 it was set to take what the DC-10 did well and do it better, which should have appealed to the many customers who had flown the predecessor. But early problems in performance and the increasing number of twin-engine long-haul airliners emerging at the same time meant it was no longer as attractive when it became essential for airlines to save money wherever possible.

I personally only flew the MD-11 twice: once with American Airlines from New York JFK to Heathrow in 1995, and once with KLM from San Francisco to Amsterdam in 2007. I found it to be a great aircraft, which felt modern but still harked back to the classic days when planes looked like planes. For me, it will be sadly missed but I’m glad it will live on for a few years yet as a cargo workhorse.

To accompany this article I’ve produced a list of the MD-11s that are still flying. To get hold of a free download copy, all you have to do is sign up to receive updates from this blog by e-mail (you’ll get all the latest news and articles!). Plus, every time I update the active MD-11 list I’ll send you an update for free!

 

FlySafair opening Johannesburg base

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Africa, Airline News, Airport News, South Africa | Posted on 06-11-2014

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FlySafair 737

FlySafair has announced it will open a new base at Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport from 3rd December.

The base, the airline’s second (after Cape Town) will initially offer flights to George and Port Elizabeth using Boeing 737-400 aircraft.

“Our intention has always been to grow our schedule of operations and it makes most sense for us to open a second base and connect all of our current destinations, therefore offering flights from Johannesburg as well as from Cape Town. Further, we have had overwhelming feedback from our passengers to introduce these routes, we have listened to their suggestions and we have great pleasure in being able to now offer these routes,” explains Lorna Terblanche, Vice President of Passenger Services for FlySafair.

New York Airports travel guide

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Miscellaneous Spotting, North America, USA | Posted on 04-11-2014

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The guys at Momondo have put together this interesting and useful infographic on travel to and from the different New York airports.

New York Airports

 

You can download a PDF version of this guide. Click here.

VLM bringing Superjet to Europe

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airline News, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 30-10-2014

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VLM Superjet

VLM Airlines is undergoing restructuring following a management buyout, and will be the first airline in Europe to introduce the Sukhoi Superjet.

The airline, based in Antwerp, currently operates a fleet of Fokker 50 aircraft on contract and charter work, and also flies on behalf of Cityjet on a number of business routes.

“We received an offer from the management of VLM Airlines that we felt we could not refuse.” said Peter Oncken, Managing Director at Intro Aviation. “We are happy to see VLM now to develop as a wholly independent airline in the ownership of a management which is dedicated to VLM”.

The airline has agreed a lease with Ilyushin Finance for two Sukhoi Superjet 100s, with options on a further two, and purchase rights on an additional ten examples.

The aircraft will be used to help VLM return to its independent scheduled service roots, beginning a network of short-haul services from Antwerp from April 2015. The Fokker 50 fleet will also be used on the scheduled services, and the Cityjet deal will continue.

“We looked at a number of aircraft types in the 100-seat range to see which would give the best passenger experience, flexibility in short-to-medium range destinations and low operating costs – the SSJ100 LR won hands down. It has been great working with IFC and Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company and I am looking forward to a mutually profitable long-term relationship.”

Air Leisure to revive Airbus A340-200s in Egypt

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Africa, Airline News, Asia, Egypt, Spotting News | Posted on 27-10-2014

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By Paul Spijkers [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Spijkers [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

A new leisure carrier in Egypt, named (suitably) Air Leisure, is planning to lease a number of the retired Airbus A340-200s from EgyptAir (although one recently returned to flying for the national carrier).

The wide-body type is the original model of A340 and is now pretty rare, with Aerolineas Argentinas retiring theirs, and a sole example still flying sporadically in Venezuela.

Air Leisure plans to use the aircraft on flights from regional airports such as Aswan, Hurghada and Luxor to destinations in the Far East.

At present Air Leisure operates a single McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft. No date has been set for the launch of A340 flights yet.

CitizenM Paris Charles de Gaulle Spotting Hotel

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport News, France, Spotting Hotels, Spotting News, Western Europe | Posted on 25-10-2014

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CitizenM Paris Airport Spotting

A new citizenM hotel opened recently at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport which is proving to be a useful option for aircraft spotters looking for a Paris spotting hotel.

The hotel also offers a less expensive alternative to the other hotels at Charles de Gaulle, such as the Hyatt and Hilton. Rooms can be booked from €70 per night, and the hotel operates a self-service check-in, with a snack bar available.

When checking in to the hotel, visitors are offered either a ‘Runway View’ or ‘Office View’ room. No prizes for guessing which you should pick if you’re wanting to watch aircraft movements from your room. Naturally, a higher room would be more advantageous, and it’s possible to select a different room if you’re offered an unacceptable one at first.

Views from the ‘Runway View’ rooms face the northerly runways, alongside Terminal 2, and the taxiways which link the northerly part with Terminal 1 and the southern runways.

Paris Spotting Hotel

citizenM offer free wi-fi internet in their rooms, which is ideal for using SBS equipment or flight tracking websites to tie up aircraft seen out of the window or on distant runways.

The hotel is only a short walk to what remains of the Mound viewing area at Paris Charles de Gaulle. This is one of the only places to easily log and photograph movements at the airport, even with its recent remodeling. Here’s a map of where the hotel is located in relation to other parts of the airport.

citizenM Paris location

The Citizen M Paris CDG hotel can be found and booked here: http://www.citizenm.com/destinations/paris/paris-charles-de-gaulle-hotel

 

Monarch retiring Boeing 757 in November

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airline News, Spotting News, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 23-10-2014

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Monarch 757

Monarch will retire its Boeing 757 fleet in November according to the airline’s latest plans.

Unlike its Airbus A300 retirement earlier this year, which saw a specially laid-on enthusiast flight to celebrate the event, the 757 will go quietly after performing its final flights on 2nd November.

A couple of ad-hoc charter flights are planned for the type following that date, after which it will be disposed of as the airline focuses on its modern fleet of Airbus A320s, A321s and A330s

Monarch is currently undergoing a change of ownership as the Mantegazza family sells the longstanding airline to Greybull Capital. Already announced this week is the departure of strategy director Stuart Jackson, among hundreds of job layoffs planned for the restructuring of the airline, which will only focus on scheduled services in the future.

Whilst visiting Gatwick recently I took this time lapse sequence of a Monarch Boeing 757 during preparation for departure, which is a nice tribute to the type.

Monarch was one of the first airlines in the world to operate the Boeing 757 when it took delivery in 1983, alongside other UK operators Air Europe and British Airways. The fleet could be seen on charters across Europe, Africa and North America, but the natural life of the airframes is coming to an end and the airline must look forward to a brand new fleet. It recently ordered 30 Boeing 737 MAX 8s, and has taken a number of second hand A321s recently to bolster its capacity.

 

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Frankfurt will be Qatar’s first A350 route

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airline News, Airport News, Frankfurt, Germany, Middle East, Qatar, Spotting News, Western Europe | Posted on 21-10-2014

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Qatar A350

Qatar Airways will introduce its new Airbus A350XWB aircraft on the Doha – Frankfurt route once delivered next year.

The A350-900 was certified recently, with one aircraft now wearing the full Qatar Airways livery. It is anticipated that delivery to the airline of the first of its 80 aircraft order will be in late 2015.

It will then operate on both of the airline’s daily flights to Frankfurt.

Qatar Airways took delivery of its first double-decker A380 aircraft in September this year and it is currently operated daily on the Doha – London Heathrow route.

Mitsubishi Regional Jet rolled out

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Asia, Japan, Miscellaneous Spotting | Posted on 21-10-2014

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MRJ Rollout

The first new Japanese-built airliner in many years has been rolled out in a ceremony at the Komaki Minami Plant of MHI’s Nagoya Aerospace Systems Works in Aichi Prefecture.

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) is a 92-seat regional jet which hopes to prove popular in this competitive market around the world.

Five prototype aircraft will go on to perform testing before deliveries. A first flight of the type, which is Japan’s first ever jet airliner, is expected between April and June 2015.

This particular aircraft is the MRJ90. A smaller, 75-seat MRJ70, will also be produced at a later date.

The MRJ family currently has 191 firm orders, with another 184 options. Key carriers to introduce the type include Japan Airlines, Eastern Air Lines and Air Mandalay.

Blackpool Airport closes today

Posted by Matt Falcus | Posted in Airport News, Miscellaneous Spotting, Spotting News, UK, Western Europe | Posted on 15-10-2014

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Blackpool Airport

Blackpool Airport will close today after it was announced that owners Balfour Beatty could not find a buyer to take over.

The airport has been loss-making for a number of years, despite having a number of based operators and regular scheduled flights with Jet2, Aer Lingus and Citywing.

The final commercial flight will leave Blackpool at 6pm on 15th October, ending over 100 years of aviation use on the site at Squire’s Gate, close to the heart of the seaside resort in northern England.

Balfour Beatty bought the airport in 2008. In recent years it has pushed for approval to use various parts of the site to generate capital for the business, but has been blocked. Blackpool handled 262,000 passengers in 2013.

The final flight will operate to the Isle of Man, with the airport closing an hour later. Based light aircraft are likely to be removed over coming weeks.

This is a sad fate for another regional airport fighting to make ends meet in the increasingly difficult passenger market. Other airports, such as Biggin Hill and Durham Tees Valley are making strides to change their business plans to rely less on aircraft income and more from other aviation activities and spare land on the site.

Do you have any memories of Blackpool Airport, either as a passenger or a spotter?