MIAMI — Delta Air Lines (DL) has begun the process of reactivating both narrowbody and widebody aircraft to its active fleet in recent days.
The move comes amid Delta increasing daily flight volumes to cope with rising demand in air travel throughout the United States in the wake of the COVID-19 virus.
While Delta has already relaunched many routes and increased frequencies on countless others for the month of June, it is its July schedule that will require more active airframes to operate.
Delta plans on operating twice the number of domestic flights in July as it did in May, according to the airline’s CEO, Ed Bastian.
On the widebody front, Delta appears to be reactivating the remainder of its Airbus A350-900 fleet from storage in Blytheville, Arkansas (BYH). Speculation exists, however, that some of these frames may soon return to storage after regular maintenance.
This past Friday and Saturday, the carrier flew four Airbus A350s from storage in Blytheville to its Detroit and Minneapolis-St.Paul hubs.
Delta chose not to comment to Airways on the short-term plans for these four aircraft.
Coincidentally, Blytheville is the very same airport that Delta flew its retired McDonnell-Douglas MD-88 and MD-90 fleet to last week.
In recent weeks, Delta has used its A350 fleet to operate a variety of missions, including scheduled passenger flights, cargo-only flights, and military charters.
The tweet below shows a Delta A350 making a stop in Sofia, Bulgaria, this past week while conducting a military charter.
Delta is expected to reactivate additional widebody aircraft in the coming weeks to help provide the necessary lift to relaunch many of its long-haul international routes.
At present, Delta plans on relaunching dozens of international routes at the beginning of its July and August schedules though a reduced itinerary.
Last week alone, the Atlanta-based carrier restarted several international routes, including New York-JFK to Amsterdam (AMS) and Tel Aviv (TLV), as well as Atlanta to London-Heathrow (LHR).
To help kickstart its international network, DL is focusing heavily on funneling passengers through partner hubs such as Amsterdam-Schiphol, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, and Seoul-Incheon.
Routes to non-partner secondary airports will return more slowly as international demand continues to be extremely sluggish.
While much attention has been paid to Delta’s long-haul network, it is its short-haul network that is seeing demand return at a much faster pace. As a result, this past week saw the first of many DL narrow-body aircraft leave storage to rejoin the active fleet.
So far, it appears that Delta is only reactivating parked Boeing 737-900ERs and Airbus A321s at this time.
While Delta is not replicating the aggressive strategy used by American Airlines of operating 55% of its 2019 domestic schedule in July, the airline will be adding significant domestic capacity in July.
In late May, Ed Bastian said the carrier planned on adding “about 200 flights in June, and probably another 200 or 300 flights in July.”
Much of this additional capacity will flow through Delta’s core hubs of ATL, DTW, MSP, and SLC.
“Once we get close to 60% on an individual route that’ll be the trigger for us to add more planes into the system,” said Bastian speaking to Fox Business Network.
At the time of publishing, data from fleet tracking website Planespotters.net showed nearly 550 Delta aircraft stored.
As part of its COVID-19 response, Delta is continuing to limit capacity on all flights to 50% in First Class; 60% in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+, and Delta Premium Select; and 75% in Delta One through September 30th.
As part of this initiative, all middle seats will be blocked when booking flights.
The jury is still out on whether limiting capacity has any real health benefits for passengers and crew.
The People at Delta
As aircraft continue to leave storage, it is important to remember that Delta is still many months or years away from operating at 2019 numbers.
As such, many aircraft are expected to remain parked for an extended period of time with many retired all together.
Each aircraft at any given airline is representative of dozens upon dozens of employees. With each aircraft parked, the jobs and livelihoods of many are at stake.
Our thoughts are with our friends in the airline industry, many of whom comprise our reading audience, as they navigate the months ahead.