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The End of an Era: SAS Retires Its Last 737-600

Last weekend a legend flew into retirement: the only remaining Boeing 737-600 operated by the northern European airline SAS performed its last commercial flight on Saturday, aptly named SK 600, from Stockholm Arlanda airport in order to be given a formal farewell at Oslo Gardermoen.

The purchase of the Boeing 737-600 by SAS, the national airline of the Scandinavian countries Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, marked a landmark change in policy in the mid-1990s. Until then SAS was a loyal customer of the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 series for all its regional needs. In a widely covered bidding war, McDonnell Douglas offered its newly redesigned MD95, a DC-9 variant with a modern cockpit against the updated ‘next generation’ Boeing 737X.

In the early 1990s, Boeing faced a dilemma: the advances in avionics and engine technology had enabled their competitors to offer newer more fuel-efficient aircraft in the regional and short-haul markets. Using the technology from their newly-developed 777 and the developments in engine technology led by CFM (a consortium of GE and the French Safran group), Boeing launched an extensive update of their 737-500 and 737-300 variants: the 737-600 and the 737-700. The 737-700 was an instant success: it rolled out in 1996 and was certified by the FAA in late 1997. In December of the same year, it entered service with Southwest and powered the low-cost carrier’s rapid growth in the years that followed.

The -600 variant, however, did not have the same success. Although designed with the same new CFM 56-7 engine–which featured the double annular combustor (DAC) system that promised lower emissions, less noise, and higher fuel efficiency–as the 737-700, it was much shorter than its sibling. The 737-600 was presented as the replacement of the -500 and the -700 for the -300.  At roughly 102 feet it could accommodate only 108 to 132 passengers.

But, its small size and engine efficiency were perfect for SAS which operated to a number of obscure domestic airports to provide a public transport service. Boeing got a major coup by securing an order of 41 737-600 aircraft beating British Aerospace with their Bae-146, Airbus 319 and the McDonell Douglas MD 95. It heralded an era of Boeing dominance at SAS for the next 20 years, with the 737-600, -700 and -800 being the aircraft of choice for all their short-haul requirements. The new interior with flexible cabin dividers, the new SAS livery (that was only replaced this summer) and a higher comfort on short-haul routes were all launched with the 737-600.

This only changed in 2013: faced with severe competition from low-cost carriers like Norwegian in their core market, SAS decided to place a large order with rival Airbus to get access to even more fuel-efficient A320neo, also a result of new engine technology. The 737-600 were the first to go and were rapidly replaced by a fleet of leased A320. In times of cost-cutting, the 24-37% higher fuel consumption, made it a high priority to phase these out and move to a single type fleet. So as you watch the last flight take off, remember how the 737-600 launched a new generation of air travel in Scandinavia.


[Image: Wikimedia Commons/Aero Icarus]

Comments are Closed.
Silferlood December 4, 2019

Check out this from the last flight taken fromn flightradar24 - https://insideflyer.no/forums/threads/siste-flyvning-sas-737-600.14743/

dhuey December 3, 2019

What an interesting Scandinavian aviation history you recount, Oliver. Thank you for that.