MIAMI – On October 31, 2020, Delta Air Lines (DL) operated their final Boeing 777 revenue service from New York to Los Angeles. Only a year removed from investing millions to retrofit the interiors, 18 of these massive widebodies have come to rest in the desert.
For many, this was the ‘beginning of the end’ for Delta utilizing Boeing aircraft. Earlier in the year, DL had announced that it would phase out 65 Boeing 717-200 and 34 Boeing 767-300ER by 2025. Besides the 737-900ER, Delta’s remaining Boeing aircraft are “not getting any younger”.
|Aircraft||Average Age (December 2020)||Current Fleet Size|
|Boeing 737-800, -900ER||4.3 years (-900ER), 19.3 years (-800)||207|
|Boeing 757-200, -300||24.1 years (-200), 17.9 years (-300)||127|
|Boeing 767-400ER||20 years||21|
As Airbus finishes fulfilling an order of 46 aircraft in the A220 family, all signs point to DL’s future lying with Airbus.
A Brief History: Turn of the Century to Present
As the 20th century came to a close, DL was operating one of the largest fleets amongst US-based carriers. After the final TriStar was retired in 2001, the DL fleet was a large majority Boeing aircraft–with exception being made to Airbus’s A320-200. It was around the same time that DL began to take delivery of the Boeing 737-800’s, 767-400’s and additional 757-200’s, eventually reaching a total of 209 aircraft between the three types alone.
In the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, DL and Northwest Airlines merged to become, at the time, the largest commercial airline in the world with a fleet of 786 aircraft. Delta acquired aircraft in the following families:
|Airbus A319||57 (-100)|
|Airbus A320||69 (-200)|
|Airbus A330||11 (-200), 21 (-300)|
|Boeing 747||16 (-400)|
|Boeing 757||45 (-200), 16 (-300)|
|McDonnell Douglas DC-9||27 (-30), 7 (-40), 34 (-50)|
Many of the aircraft acquired in the merger would quickly become workhorses on domestic routes, including the A319, A320 and 757. The A330 have also become prominent as well, mainly serving long-haul routes. A majority of the DC-9’s would never even wear a Delta livery, and the B747’s would be retired in 2018 in favor DL’s new flagship, the Airbus A350-900.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the airline to prioritize efficiency, and DL swiftly phased out all 18 of their Boeing 777’s—their average age less than 15 years old. The airline determined that the long-haul workhouse was simply too inefficient compared to the fleet of A350 family aircraft.
Delta and Boeing: What Went Wrong?
For many years, Boeing (and McDonnell Douglas) aircraft would be at the forefront of Delta’s fleet. However, the 2010’s brought about an ‘on-again, off-again’ between America’s largest airline and one of the most recognizable names in the aerospace industry.
A major shift occurred when DL placed an order for 75 Bombardier CS100’s plus 50 options in April 2016. Soon after, the CS100 would be rebranded to the Airbus A220.
Just a year later, Boeing filed a complaint against Bombardier and Airbus—accusing the entities of “dumping” the aircraft at a cut-price into the US market. Boeing was threatened by the successful sales numbers of the CS100/A220, and eventually lost to Bombardier in court.
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian was very outspoken against Boeing’s actions—going as far as to say that he was “mystified” by the situation.
Despite this, DL followed through on their order of 10 Boeing 737-900ER’s placed in 2017. The final aircraft from this order was delivered in July 2019.
Maybe Not “Goodbye Forever”
As airlines lined up to purchase the Boeing 737-MAX8, DL opted for the Airbus A321neo after months of careful consideration. It can be said that they dodged a metaphorical bullet, as the 737-MAX8 was grounded for over a year after two deadly accidents.
Speaking after the controversial aircraft was recertified on Sunday, Bastian suggested that a MAX8 order may be a possibility.
“We’re talking to Boeing about lots of different things, the Max included”, he said.
A source within Delta who asked to remain nameless has confirmed that a limited group of pilots are currently completing trainings involving the MAX8.
Maybe it isn’t “goodbye forever” between DL and Boeing.
A Common Theme
Delta’s fleet has seen large amounts of change in just 20 years. The driving force behind these rapid changes has been fueled by one common theme–financial uncertainty. The 2008 financial crisis resulted in a historic merger, and the COVID-19 pandemic forced quick decision making.
Some can argue that all signs point to an all-Airbus fleet in 10 years, but it is impossible to be certain. In a world where uncertainty doesn’t heed to lengths of time, Boeing lovers will continue to await Delta’s next move.
*All fleet information listed in this article is courtesy of planespotters.net.
Featured Image: Delta Air Lines Boeing 777-200. PHOTO: Tony Bordelais/Airways