Entering into the mid-70s although the Italian flag carrier had taken necessary steps to renew its long-haul fleet (buying both 747s and DC-10s) Alitalia's short and medium haul fleet was in need of replacement. To be fair it had acquired 47 DC-9-32s, primarily between 1967 and 1970, which were spread amongst itself and its subsidiary ATI, however the remainder of its smaller jets consisted of Caravelles and DC-8-43s. Both of these types did not fair well with jet fuel at record highs. To replace these aircraft Alitalia undertook a competition between the new Airbus A300 widebody, Douglas DC-9-51 and the Boeing 727-200 Advanced.
Seven 727-200s began to arrive in 1976 registered from I-DIRA in a non-sequential and rather random order. Later machines would fill in some of the gaps, but not all of them, as the fleet would grow to 18 aircraft the last in the sequence being I-DIRT. All the fleet were named after historic Italian cities.
A further 11 727s were purchased in 1978/79 however at this time the Airbus A300 also secured a place in the fleet. Worse for the Boeing the A300 had the last laugh over the 727 as in 1982 Alitalia accepted an offer from McDonnell Douglas to replace its 727s completely with new MD-80s. This was quite a startling move as Alitalia had only accepted its last new 727s the previous year!
The almost new 727s were in high demand and 16 of the 18 went to the new budget startup PeoplExpress in the United States from January 1984. The exceptions were I-DIRL and I-DIRT. RL joined Turkish Airlines as TC-JCK whilst RT became YU-AKM with the Yugoslav charter airline Aviogenex. The aircraft depicted by this model, I-DIRI, became N572PE. The 727s couldn’t stop the unravelling of the PEX business model and they all passed to Continental Airlines following its purchase of the struggling low fare carrier. It wasn’t until December 1990 however that this frame became N17402. She served until December 1999. After 5 months in storage this aircraft was exported to Canada as C-GQKF where she was converted to a freighter for Kelowna Flightcraft. She was finally broken up over fourteen years later at Hamilton in August 2015.
In part 2 we'll look at the Airbus A300 in Alitalia service.
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: