The McDonnell Douglas MD-88, the last version of the MD-80 twin-engine single-aisle jet, is the oldest plane in service in the US with a major airline. First introduced in 1988, it has been nicknamed “Mad Dog” because of its “eyebrow windows” and its cage-like cockpit that provided little room to stretch. The aircraft controls, which were outdated, required pilots to relearn checklist procedures.The aircraft was also so loud that US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York openly cheered Delta’s decision to stop flying the aircraft out of LaGuardia Airport.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, despite all its failings, the MD-88 affords new pilots the chance to promote more easily if they commit to flying Mad Dog routes. One Delta pilot that was hired in January has since graduated to captain by piloting the unpopular MD-88, which Delta will remove from service in the next three years.
Because unionized pilots usually graduate from the right-hand first officer’s seat to the left-hand captain’s seat, and from smaller to larger aircraft., the traditional eight to ten year promotion process has dropped to two or three years in recent increased airline activity periods, said Kit Darby, a pilot consultant based in an Atlanta suburb. Most veterans with seniority chose to fly aircraft like the Boeing 747 jumbo on routes to Asia, and junior pilots are left to settle for a captain’s seat on a Boeing 717, or a first officer position on a larger carrier.
Delta has had a tough time finding pilots willing to fly the McDonnell Douglas MD-88 because most pilots prefer to fly as first officers on intercontinental flights that pay more. Since pilots are paid by flight time, “a first officer with 10 years’ experience on the long-range Boeing 747 makes about $221,000 a year, roughly the same as a first-year captain on the shorter-range Boeing 717,” says Bloomberg.
A global shortage of airline pilots and an increase in demand for flights, trends that are expected to continue, have resulted in airlines like Delta promoting pilots more quickly. For new pilots looking to graduate to the captain’s seat, the easiest way to achieve their goal is to pilot the unpopular McDonnell Douglas MD-88.