The 737 fleet the new Continental inherited in 1987 was far from homogenous itself. The aircraft consisted of both series 100s, 200s and 300s. Looking at the older 100s and 200s, two of the founder airlines that now constituted a good chunk of Continental based their fleets around the baby Boeing, but the majority of the aircraft had not been delivered new to Frontier Airlines (itself taken over by PeoplExpress only in October 1985) or PeoplExpress.
Frontier had operated 737s since 1969 and at the time of their collapse in August 1986 5 of these original 737-291s survived alongside 5 equally old 737-2C0s that Frontier had taken on, after they had served very short leases elsewhere, at about the same time. Frontier had been introducing a new fleet of improved 737-291 Advanceds from 1978-1983 however most of these had been sold in a fire sale to its Denver rival United as the airline's financial trouble overwhelmed it. Only 5 of the original 29 made it to Continental. The rest of Frontier's 737s were a rather random collection of second-hand units:
That gave Continental 26 737s from Frontier of 8 different marks - only four of which were built after 1980 and most of which were over fifteen years old. N14245, above, was in fact one of Frontiers first 5 737s all of which served short leases to Air California before going to Frontier. Originally N574GB she became N7371F and stayed with that registration until March 1992 when Continental re-registered her N14245. She wasn’t withdrawn until January 1999 after which she was broken up.
PeoplExpress was obviously a 1980s startup and one that purchased all its aircraft on the secondhand market. Its fleet consisted of 17 1968 vintage 737-130s and only 5 737-217s. The 737-130s had at least spent most of their careers with Lufthansa, an airline with an impeccable maintenance regime. The 737-217s were all ex-CP Air frames also dating from 1968. N14233, below, was one these five former CP Air machines that had passed to PeoplExpress from late 1982. This aircraft had been CF-CPE upon delivery on December 20, 1968 and subsequently became N434PE in March 1983. Merged into Continental in February 1987 she was re-registered in August 1989.
It wasn't just the 737s in Continental's fleet at the end of the 1980s that were cause for concern. Most of the rest of the fleet was made up of equally old DC-9-14/15/31/32s, 727-22s, 727-224s. middle age 727-224A/227A/232A/243As, A300s (mainly ex-Eastern) in poor condition and a selection of second-hand DC-10-30s. Only the MD-82/83s and 737-3T0s could be considered truly modern. This was just one of a host of major problems that saddled the new Continental, which despite its size was a basketcase of simmering discontent and losses, even before the first Gulf War sent the economy into a nosedive and fuel prices rocketing. Continental entered bankruptcy again in December 1990 but at least by then it was rid of Lorenzo!
1991 signalled the beginning of Continental's rebirth when it gained a new livery, though the road remained bumpy until well after Gordon Bethune tookover as President in 1994 (and CEO in 1996). One of his priorities was to remove the 'junk jets', as he called them, from the fleet. To be fair Continental had been retiring the oldest aircraft gradually since the multi-merger but strapped for cash its options were relatively limited.
One of the actions Continental had taken was to reorganise its fleet, if only by reregistering them into some kind of sequence. The new Continental registrations appeared quite random but took the format N plus 5 digits with the last three digits being the ship number. The 737-130 and 200s were in the 200 range. Most of the 737s continued in service through the 1990s and it wasn't until arrival of large numbers of 737-700/800s that they were retired. The last 737-200s in fact soldiered on until the end of March 1999 and several of these frames were by then over 30 years old.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: