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Northwest Airlines upgrades international fleet

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 (AP)  The Airbus A330 that Northwest Airlines flies overseas has all the latest features, but the airline's domestic fleet is one of the oldest among U.S. carriers.        Northwest is overhauling its international fleet with the A330 and, beginning in late 2008 or 2009, Boeing's new 787 "Dreamliner." In 2000 it was still flying 40 DC-10s, some of them built in the late 1960s, and 21 Boeing 747-200s. Those are all gone now.

      The DC-10s were gas hogs, required three pilots to fly, and lacked modern features like in-seat video screens.

      The A330 is more fuel efficient, requires just two pilots, and even has crew bunks for the cabin crew for flights more than eight hours. Northwest showed off its 32nd A330 on Thursday, the final aircraft of an order that began deliveries in 2003.

      "With this delivery we now have the youngest international fleet of any North American carrier," Northwest CEO Doug Steenland said on Thursday as he showed off the plane, which still had a new-plane smell and protective plastic runners down the aisles. Northwest said it now flies the world's largest A330 fleet.

      Northwest is also planning to use the new 787 on international flights. Northwest and United Airlines have the largest Asian presence among U.S. carriers, and Steenland said Northwest will be flying twice as many aircraft on international routes by 2010 as it is now.

      There's less to show off on its domestic fleet, though. While Northwest is quickly modernizing its regional service with new 76-seat jets, much of its mainline domestic flying is still done with DC-9's, which generally seat around 100 people. As of 2004 Northwest's 150 DC-9s averaged 34 years old.

      Steenland said Northwest is looking into whether, and when, to replace them. He said he's watching to see if a manufacturer makes a new 100-seat aircraft made with the same light, sturdy carbon composites as the Boeing 787, which Northwest is buying. He said he expects to make a decision about a DC-9 replacement next year.

      The DC-9 is a good fit for Northwest because of all the small markets it serves, but it's less fuel efficient than other airplanes.

      Northwest was originally scheduled to get its first of 18 787s in August 2008, but Boeing announced earlier this month that deliveries would begin six months late.

      Steenland said a six-month delay would not cause a major problem, as long as Boeing catches up soon after that. He said he expects to meet with Boeing officials soon to get an updated delivery schedule.