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Archive for Sunday, October 1, 2000

TWA retires 727s from fleet

Jet model used since 1964 too expensive to maintain

October 1, 2000

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— The last Boeing 727 of Trans World Airlines has made its final stop.

TWA is retiring the aircraft, and the last plane's final flight was scheduled Saturday afternoon, landing at Lambert Airport in St. Louis. It's all part of the St. Louis company's effort to modernize the fleet and deal with rising fuel costs.

Retirement of the remaining six 727s also marks the end of flight engineers in TWA cockpits.

The 727, which first went into service for the airline in June 1964, will be replaced with more fuel-efficient Boeing 717 and MD-80 jets, TWA spokeswoman Julia Bishop-Cross said.

Affectionately called "The Pig" because of the way it appears to waddle into the air on takeoff, the 727 became TWA's main aircraft in the late 1980s. It was often used to fly St. Louis' sports teams, including the Rams and Cardinals.

But the 727's most notable passenger while in service for TWA was Pope John Paul II. TWA was host to John Paul in 1999 on an 11-city tour over 12 days on a specially configured 727 called "Shepherd One."

Still, the 727 was a big factor in TWA's operating expenses in later years. Unlike newer models in TWA's fleet, the 727 requires flight engineers in the cockpit, besides the usual two pilots.

Plus, average fuel consumption of the 727 last year was 1,214 gallons of jet fuel per flight hour, Bishop-Cross said. The 717, by comparison, consumed an average of 658 gallons per flight hour. The MD-80 burned an average of 954 gallons, she said.

Where the 727 is replaced by the 717 and MD-80, the airline estimates fuel costs will be cut by 40.3 percent and 13.4 percent, respectively.

"With jet fuel costing north of $35 per barrel, the retirement of the 727 represents a great savings to TWA in the terms of fuel cost," said Capt. Bill Compton, TWA's chief executive officer and president.

TWA's labor costs also will be affected. Forty-six of the 63 flight engineers who helped pilot the 727s will retire, and the position will be eliminated. The remaining flight engineers will be trained to fly other aircraft, Bishop-Cross said.

In all, replacing the 727 is expected to lower overall operating costs per aircraft by 45 percent, Bishop-Cross said.

In recent years, TWA used the 145-seat 727s on short-haul trips, including flights from St. Louis to cities such as Chicago, New Orleans and Little Rock, Ark. The 717s replacing them will have a seating capacity of 111, including 16 first-class seats. The MD-80s have a seating capacity of 140, including 20 first-class seats.

Bishop-Cross said the replacement aircraft's size is consistent with an industry trend to fly smaller planes more frequently.

TWA has nine 717s in its fleet and will take delivery of six more this year, part of its order for 50. TWA also has options to buy another 50.

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