MIAMI — US Airways retired its last Boeing 737-400 aircraft on Tuesday, ending a twenty-five-year run with the carrier.
The very last jet, N435US, made its final landing at 9:48PM local time, pulling up to the gate at the carrier’s Charlotte/Douglas International hub. Earlier in the day the airplane paid a visit to two other US Airways/American hubs, Philadelphia and Dallas/Ft Worth, operating as flight 737 (get it?). Each stop, according to the airline, was extended in order to accommodate short farewell festivities.
It was also the final flight for Captain Jeffrey Tarr, who served 33 years with US Airways.
“We’re proud to have been the launch customer of the B737-400, which formed an integral part of the US Airways fleet over the years,” said American in a statement. In total the airline operated 65 of the jets between its 1989 launch and 2014 retirement.
The company had been steadily retiring its fleet of -400s for several years however, moving the airplanes into storage or onwards to new operators. Of those 65 only one aircraft suffered a fatal accident, N416US. The aircraft crashed during a botched take-off at New York’s LaGuardia airport on September 20, 1989, while operating flight 5050 to Charlotte, NC. Two died as the airplane broke apart and came to rest in Bowery Bay.
The final retirement on Tuesday also marks the end of the 737-classic fleet within US and its parent company American Airlines Group. Indeed classics such as the -300 and -200 (and -400) formed the backbone of US Air(way)s’ short to mid-haul fleet for the better part of two decades. The carrier operated 106 -200s from 1982 until 2004, and a total of 164 -300s from 1984 through 2012.
While US Air did receive a number of the jets fresh from the factory, many were also inherited from its merger with Piedmont in 1987. The aging frames were replaced increasingly aggressively through the 2000s as new Airbus A319/A320 aircraft entered the fleet.
For its part American, now in the process of merging with US, briefly operated a small fleet of 54 737-100, -200, and -300 jets in the late 1980s through the early 1990s. The airplanes were acquired through AA’s merger with AirCal in 1987, and put to use on regional and mid-haul routes. Their stay was short, however, and American managed to sell off the jets by the end of 1992. It did not reacquire 737s until nearly a decade later, when it took delivery of its first 737 Next-Generation -800.
Still, the reign of the classic 737 is far from over in the US. Many of the former AirCal 737-300s that American sold off in the early 1990s wound up in the hands of Southwest Airlines, which continues to fly the jets today. The Dallas-based carrier operates one of the largest 737-classic fleets in the world: nearly 130 -300s and 14 -500s.
At least for the forseeable future, the jets aren’t going anywhere. Southwest recently completed a substantial interior overhaul of many of its classics that is set to give the jets another lease on life. The airline did say they’ll eventually be transitioned out, but declined to say exactly when.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, Alaska Airlines continues to operate some 29 -400s. The carrier has no date set for retirement, though a spokesperson said it has been returning the jets as leases expire.
Finally, start-up PeoplExpress also utilizes the -400, via Vision Airlines. It’s a bit of a full circle for the classics and the iconic brand, as the original People Express that today’s start-up is modeled after flew a small fleet of 737-100s and -200s.