3rd January 1989 – The unmistakable shape of a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 touches down at Dhakas Zia International Airport to begin life with her new owners Biman Bangladesh Airlines. Now some 25 years on, the same aircraft carrying registration S2-ACR otherwise known as ‘New Era’, is drawing to a close the passenger role of the loyal trijet as the last airline with the DC-10 in use gets ready to retire the type. Jamie Ewan takes a look at the operating history of the type with Biman and is on board for one of its final passenger flights.

Founded on 4 January 1972, Biman Bangladesh Airlines was launched as the flag carrier of Bangladesh following the countries independence. The airline was formed after 2,500 former Pakistan International Airlines personnel, including 10 Boeing 707 pilots, submitted a proposal for the airline. Initially named Air Bangladesh, Biman (as it is commonly referred to today) started operations on 4th February 1972 using a single Douglas DC3.

As with many airlines, their history in itself is a story to be told with the tales of ups and downs of air travel, additions and losses to their fleet and economical uncertainty. In the first year of operations the airline flew some 380,000 passengers over 1,079 flights.

Entering the jet age in March 1972 with a loaned Boeing 707 from British Caledonia, Biman started its international services on the 4th of that month with its weekly service on the Dhaka to London service. As the international market expanded and more international routes were added to the airlines roster, there was a need for a larger capacity aircraft leading to Biman looking to join the wide body club – enter the DC-10.

Designed as a three engine, low winged, wide body airliner, the origins of the McDonnell Douglas trijet can be traced back to 1963 when the USAF began looking into studies for a replacement for its Lockheed C-133 Cargomasters. Designated CX-HLS (Heavy Logistics System), the project saw the big three – Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed – awarded design study contracts for a new type. Sadly losing out to Lockheed who won contract in October 1965 leading to the C5 Galaxy, both Douglas and Boeing looked into possible civilian applications of their designs – Boeings leading to the very successful 747.

Under the designation DC-10, Douglas carried on with its wide-bodied type design programme to try and match Boeings 747. However development only continued on the design until February 1966 when work was delayed. In April 1966 the DC-10 programme was given a new lease of life when American Airlines issued a requirement for a large capacity aircraft smaller than the 747. Despite financial troubles of Douglas (leading to the McDonnell Douglas merger) and stiff competition, production of the type finally started in January 1969 with the first aircraft entering service with American Airlines in 1971.

Looking at the Boeing 747 to begin with it was deemed that the Jumbo was too big for the needs of Biman. Both the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar were in the running and the ideal opportunity presented itself to the airline when Singapore International Airlines began to the replace its fleet of seven DC-10-30s (9V-SDA – 9V-SDG). With the series 30 being the long range variant of the type, this allowed the airline the flexibility they required and snapped up three of Singapore’s very well looked after aircraft.

Arriving at Zia International on 15th August 1983 DC-10 S2-ACP (ex-SIA 9V-SDD) became the first wide-bodied aircraft on the Bangladeshi register. Closely followed by S2-ACO (ex-SIA 9V-SDB) on 29th September 1983 and S2-ACQ (ex-SIA 9V-SDF) on 30th December 1983, the airlines newest machines were used on the Dhaka to London routes via Dubai.

Fitted out with two classes, Economy and Business (known as Executive Class in Biman operations), the aircraft were delivered with a capacity of 274 Passengers (30 seats in Executive Class in a 2-2-2 fit and 244 seats in economy class in a 2-5-2 fit).

As DC-10 production entered its twilight of its run, Biman bought a brand new DC-10 from McDonnell Douglas, the second to last production DC-10. Becoming S2-ACR, the aircraft was delivered to Dhaka on January 3 1989 and was named ‘New Era’. With four of the trijets now is service with the airline, Biman retired its four Boeing 707s after 17 years of operations all over the world.

Operating four of the jets all over the world, including a transatlantic service to New York, the demand for capacity allowed the airline to look for further airframes to augment the fleet in the early nineties. Sourced from the International Leasing Market, the airline acquired a further two ex-SIA jets. Having been retired from SIA in 1980 both aircraft went on to serve with Varig airlines of Brazil for 12 years before briefly being put to use by World Airlines.

Both aircraft arrived in Dhaka for use with Biman as S2-ADA (ex-SIA 9V-SDE) and S2-ADB (ex-SIA 9V-SDG) on 20th July 1993. Sadly both aircraft had a short career with the carrier due to the purchase of two Airbus A310s around the same time. A2-ADA only stayed with the Airline for 6 months adorned in her World Airlines paint scheme and Biman titles before ending up with Russian carrier Aeroflot as N534MD. The second airframe, S2-ADB, managed three years with the airline before heading off on her next career path ending up as a freighter in Zimbabwe.

The last of Bimans DC-10s came from two ex Canadian operated jets – S2- ACS (ex-CPA/CAI C-GCPF) and S2-AND (ex-CPA/CAI C-GCPE) delivered to Dhaka in December 1999 and November 2000 respectively.

At the height of DC-10 operations with Biman, the fleet comprised of six active airframes ploughing their way through the Eastern and Western Skies. As with many second generation jets the age and quality of them started to cause worry to the aviation administrations of the world including one incident in 2006 where the weekly flight into New York was refused permission to enter US Airspace due to safety concerns from the FAA and the jet diverted into Canada. Sadly the flights into New York stopped after this starting a decline in the DC-10s loyal history with Biman.

After serving so many of the worlds cities, the aircrafts finals years with carrier saw the aircraft used to fly trunk routes in various multi-step stages such as Dhaka to Dubai and on to London. As the drawn down continued and the finances required to maintain and fly the ‘Banjos’ (A nickname given to the type due to the unique design of the tail mounted engine) increased, the airline removed the executive class seats to create a single economy class with a capacity of 314. In this capacity the aircraft was used by many commuting to and from work across the various Gulf states via some of Bangladeshis major cities.

As the prices of fuel combined with high fuel consumption and the age of the aircraft, Biman slowly started to withdraw them from service in favour for more economical types. In 2007 the first was withdrawn from active service and placed into storage at Dhaka. Six years after S2-ACS was placed in storage, S2-ACO joined in 2013, soon to be followed by S2-ACQ a few months later and S2-ACP after that. With S2-ADN being written off in a landing accident in Cittaging in 2005 (thankfully with no loss of life), this left a single airframe in use – S2-ACR ‘New Era’

Serial

First Flight

Previous Serial

Entered Biman Service

Left Biman Service

Current Status

S2-ACP ‘City of Dhaka’ 08/02/1979 9V-SDD (SIA) 15/08/1983 10/11/2013 Stored Dhaka TBS
S2-ACO ‘City of Hazrat Shah Makhdoom’ 03/10/1978 9V-SDB (SIA) 29/09/1983 16/04/2013 Stored Dhaka TBS
S2-ACQ ‘City of Hazarat Shah Jalal’ 10/09/1979 9V-SDF (SIA) 30/12/1983 24/07/2013 Stored Dhaka TBS
S2-ACR 01/09/1988 Delivered New 03/01/1989 Current Flyer
S2-ADA 06/06/1979 9V-SDE (SIA) 20/07/1993 26/01/1994 Sold – Now N524MD
S2-ADB 23/10/1979 9V-SDG (SIA) 20/07/1993 01/09/1996 Sold – Now N525MD
S2-ACS 05/09/1980 C-GCPF (CAN) 19/12/1999 18/06/2007 Stored Dhaka
S2-AND 27/07/1979 C-GCPE (CAN) 28/11/2000 01/07/2005 W/O 01/07/05

Farewell Tour

After 43 years in service, a production run lasting some 20 years delivering 446 airframes (including 60 KC10 Extenders for the USAF) and nearly 170 different users, 20th February 2014 marked the end of the DC-10 as a commercial passenger jet with one last scheduled service.

Bangladesh Airlines Chief Executive, Kevin Steele, was very keen to see the very last DC-10 in her conceived role go out in style. Prior to S2-ACR being retired Biman allowed a one-off flight to the UK to be organised followed by a number of pleasure flights to be flown in and out of Birmingham for the aviation community. Departing from the airlines base of Dhakas Shahjalal International Airport as ‘BG1015’, the aircraft headed to Birmingham International Airport via Kuwait on her one-off flight to the UK to send the aircraft off in style.

As the aircraft landed in Birmingham after her long haul flight, the last ever point-to-point passenger flight of the ‘Banjo’ had taken place and ‘New Era’ had ended an Era.

With the introduction of the Boeing 777-300/ER on the airlines long haul routes, Bimans DC-10s flew their last commercial duties with Bangladesh Airlines on their Dhaka, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Abu Dhabi routes before being slowly retired from use. As the end of the aircrafts operations drew nearer, the last of the carriers DC-10 fleet, S2-ACR ‘New Era’ spent most of its final weeks of service as an air spare for the airlines Airbus A310 and Boeing 777 fleets before being withdrawn and handed over to the airlines technical team to prepare for the UK farewell.

Planned to fly three local flights each day at 0900 – flying as BG002, 1200 – flying as BG004 and 1500 – flying as BG008 on 22nd, 23rd and 24th February for around an hour, the aircraft had 150 seats available for the flight with the choice of either a window or aisle seat adjacent to the windows allowing those onboard ample opportunity to have a look around the aircraft whilst in the air and experience the one and only DC-10 at 24,000 feet.

“With a ticket for BG002 on the 23rd I was very fortunate to be one of the few to experience, in my case for the first time, the DC-10 in all her final days of glory. After checking in and being allocated seat 35J it was time to head out to the aircraft. Approaching the aircraft on a passenger transfers bus, ‘New Era’ sat at its stand on the wet Birmingham apron as the hustle and bustle of daily operations carried on around. Adorned in a rather splendid, but worn, Biman Bangladeshi Airlines scheme the aircraft is an imposing sight sitting proud as the grey clouds broke gently to shine on it as if to say hello. Allowed to have a quick photographic opportunity before boarding the aircraft for departure, the sheer size of the aircraft becomes apparent as you take a look through the viewfinder. Climbing aboard the air stairs, a quick glance inside the cockpit revealed the crew of three hard at work preparing the second generation jet for the first flight of the day. Met by one of the air stewardess with a smile, I was shown personally to my rather colourful seat – common throughout the entire Biman DC-10 fleet.

A few shots of the interior followed while the excitement grew for the upcoming flight. With a departure time of 0900 the aircraft was stowed and readied for push pack and taxi only for the Captain to make an announcement that due to not receiving clearance from ATC at that time we were sadly delayed until such clearance was given. Before long, clearance was given and with a gentle whine and rumble the aircraft came to life as we were pushed back ready for taxi to the active. As the crew powered up the three General Electric CF6-50C2 engines their control checks were carried out and aircraft flaps set for departure. Entering the runway the aircraft whined as the power was slammed on for a rolling take off – the acceleration was incredible! As speed built the ground became a blur before we were shooting skywards for the low hanging cloud. With a bump here and a bump there the aircraft burst through the clouds into a stunning sea of fluffy white clouds and a heavenly cold blue sky. Levelling off around 24,000 feet heading north the seat belt signs were switched off and we were able to have a look around the cabin and have a chat to the crew that were only too happy to pose for pictures and answer questions. Almost as soon as it had started the aircraft was heading back south after flying as far north as the Lake District and back on a descent in to Birmingham.

Engulfed by cloud and greyness as the jet descended back on to Birmingham’s runway 15, the trailing edges of the wings dragged the cloud with them creating wonderful streamers showing the aircrafts path on another approach, taking the jet closer to the end. Approaching over the threshold the aircraft flared slightly and back onto the runway with a bump before the crew slammed on the anchors, bringing it to a stop to complete the first flight of the day.”

With a final fling in style, the last flight on the 24th does see the end of the road for the DC-10 as it will be the last ever time any fare paying souls fly on the aircraft. Heading back to Dhaka on the 25th the aircraft has been reportedly sold and is due to be scraped after being parted out. As Biman moves on, the DC-10 lives on in the freighter role as S2-ACR closes another chapter of aviation history, long live the DC-10!