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Northwest Airlines Detroit international operations in 2000

Here at Bangalore Aviation, we sometimes like to take trips down memory lane, and explore the history of airlines.

Today we take a look at Northwest Airline’s international operation in their Detroit “World Gateway” in 2000. Northwest Airlines was a US carrier who served Mumbai and Delhi for many years via partner KLM’s hub in Amsterdam. In 2008 they merged with Delta Air Lines to form (then) the world’s largest carrier.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, Northwest Airlines had its largest international operation at its hub in Detroit. To give readers a better picture of their operations in that year, Bangalore Aviation has reviewed US Department of Transportation data (amongst other sources)and gleaned the following details.

*Please note that all figures are for outbound flights ONLY; multiplying all figures by two would provide a rough estimation of total market size

Characteristic Figure
Passengers Carried 1,460,003
Scheduled Destinations Served 20
Flights Operated 8109
Average Load Factor 75.97%
Destinations Served (Scheduled) Amsterdam, Beijing, Cancun*, Frankfurt, Grand Cayman*, Ixtapa*, London-Gatwick, Mexico City, Montreal, Nagoya, Tokyo-Narita, Osaka-Kansai, Paris- Charles de Gaulle, Puerto Vallarta, Rome, Saint Maarten*, Shanghai-Pudong, Toronto, Vancouver*
Most Common Aircraft Type Douglas DC-10

Today, of the 20 destinations from 2000, 16 are served by Delta Air Lines’ hub in Detroit, with Paris- Charles de Gaulle service forthcoming in summer 2012

The following maps give a better picture of international service from Detroit; the first map covers regional international routes, the second: long haul ones.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Additionally, the following destinations had the most traffic out of Detroit:

Destination Traffic
Amsterdam 320,956
Tokyo-Narita 165,045
Toronto 134,213
Osaka-Kansai 128,995
London-Gatwick 106,448

On that list, by far the most surprising destination for most people is Osaka-Kansai. Back in the 1990s, Osaka was considered a global city on the level of Rome or Paris; Northwest ran daily Boeing 747-400s on the route. But today, Osaka is mostly an afterthought for the US carriers; much of the traffic to Osaka now connects in Seoul on Korean Air and Asiana.

Also noteworthy is the relative dominance of Amsterdam as a destination. By this point, the Northwest-KLM joint venture was reaching its peak, and the two carriers were funneling passengers back and forth across the Atlantic like crazy. Still, Amsterdam is the largest trans-Atlantic destination served from Detroit today; perhaps all those years of cooperation fostered additional business links?

The following chart notes the seat load factor of all Northwest Airlines international flights from Detroit in 2000:


75.9% is certainly not out of line for seat factors on international flights, but as a comparison, Delta averages around 85% on their operations today.

Meanwhile, it is also interesting to note the breakdown of international flights out of Detroit by aircraft type.

Aircraft Flights
Douglas DC 10-30 2177
Boeing 747-400 1752
Douglas DC 9-50 1184
Airbus A320 782
Airbus A319 663
Douglas DC 9-30 553
Boeing 727-200 488
Douglas DC 9-40 168
Douglas DC 10-40 160
Boeing 757-200 122
Boeing 747-200 52
Douglas DC 9-10 8

Most of these aircraft have been elminated completely from global airline fleets and even in 2000 were on their last leg. Still, its easy to remember a time when tri-jets (such as the DC-10 and the 727 were the norm). Of those aircraft, the 757s, A320 family aircraft, and the 747-400s remain in Delta’s fleet. The 747 classics and DC-9s were mostly retired while the DC-10s were replaced by Airbus A330s.

Northwest Airlines was the first carrier I ever flew (DTW-AMS in the early 90s incidentally), and also featured my favorite livery of all time, the “Bowling Shoe” (pictured below). May they rest in peace.

About Vinay Bhaskara

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