McDonnell Douglas/Boeing MD-80 Airliner

American Airlines MD-80


August 26, 2021

On this date in 1980 the FAA certified the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 airliner for operation with two pilots.  This certification was revolutionary, most airlines at the time operated with three crew members in the cockpit: pilot, a co-pilot and a flight engineer.  Before 1980 the presence of three pilots was considered essential for safety even though the accident record of the 1970’s showed that three pilots often did not work together as a coordinated and coherent crew.  Airline Accidents occurred much more frequently than today.

To block the FAA’s certification of the MD-80 the country’s largest pilot union, the Air Line Pilots Association, filed a lawsuit .  The union alleged that the certification for only two pilots was unsafe.  Underlying ALPA’s decision to sue was also a fear that one-third of aircrew jobs would be eliminated when the number of people in the cockpit was reduced from three to two.

The MD-80, pictured above, was officially designated the DC-9-80 by the FAA and several variants were developed over the years.  The MD-80 has a distinctive profile with its two engines mounted behind the wings near the tail.  The aircraft had a long history of flights with American Airlines and other carriers.  American began flying the plane in 1984.  Versions of the MD-80 flew routinely with American until 2019.  In 1997 Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas and the MD-80 line and continued to manufacture the planes in California.  According to Boeing, the MD-80’s top speed was 546 mph and it could travel 1,600 miles with 155 passengers onboard.  Between 1980 and 1999 almost 1,200 MD-80 aircraft were delivered around the world by McDonnell Douglas then Boeing.

The MD-80 and its variants were involved in several fatal accidents.  One of the notable accidents was the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 on January 31, 2000 off the coast of California.  The crash was caused by a mechanical failure of the horizontal stabilizer trim system.  The FAA approved Alaska Airlines’ preventative maintenance protocol for the system, which was not adequate and contributed the crash.  Shortly thereafter, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive which required a visual inspection, testing, and more frequent lubrication of the horizontal stabilizer trim system.

If you have been affected by an aviation accident, you need a lawyer who understands airplanes and the aviation industry.  Aviation lawyer John Gagliano can provide a free consultation about your case.  Connect with the Gagliano Law Offices by calling 215-554-6170 or email John directly at  John is a member of the bar of the state and federal courts in Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania as well as several federal courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.  John has a nation-wide practice and he has been admitted to courts in over two dozen jurisdictions to prosecute aviation cases on behalf of clients.