MIAMI — Two and a half years after being ordered, the first Airbus A321 for Delta Air Lines has been delivered. The new jetliner is joining Delta’s fleet of over 800 mainline aircraft.
A Long Journey to Delivery
Throughout the week Delta has given an inside look at the Airbus A321 delivery process, which began in September 2013 with the original order for 30 A321s, further increased by 15 in 2014 for a total of 45 narrowbodies. Then, in the following months, the Atlanta-based carrier would negotiate a favorable delivery schedule while prepping maintenance and ground staff for the the aircraft.
The delivery process begins with an initial examination of the aircraft. Delta sent a team of in-house Airbus experts to Hamburg, Germany, to conduct a multi-day examination program.
As part of the tests, the team of Airbus experts inspect nearly every inch of the aircraft. Quality assurance teams and Delta pilots ran checks on all systems in the aircraft to meet the requirements of the airline. After 12 hours of tests, Delta left the aircraft with Airbus technicians, in order to resolve any problems found, which were labelled with orange tape.
Prior to Delta testing, the aircraft was flown several times to test the functionality of the aircraft. After a series of Airbus test flights and the Delta ground check, the aircraft was handed over to Delta captains for an additional round of flights.
Led by Capt. Dave Vorgias, a 29-year Delta Line Check Pilot and Capt. Pat Haake, the first A321, registered N301DN (MSN 6923) took to the skies for a series of tests, ranking from a full takeoff thrust to a number of non-standard flight procedures, intended to explore the limits of the systems, including steep turns, climbs and descents, and ensuring the aircraft’s ability to maneuver quickly and efficiently, if required. The pilots also measure the rate of cabin air leakage with the aircraft’s pressurization off and then proceeded back to the airport to perform a touch and go.
While the flight deck crew was busy maneuvering the aircraft over German skies, the cabin was carefully inspected to ensure the aircraft is ready to be delivered. With a new interior design, it was critical that the Delta team test the cabin to ensure compatibility. According to Delta’s Senior Project Manager Joseph Eddy, “Doors, panels, overhead bins and just about everything on board is affected by the changes in cabin pressure during various flight phases. During the customer flight, we’ll test every movable part inside the cabin. We want to make sure everything functions well, not just on the ground, but whenever our customers would use them.”
Last Wednesday, Delta officially took delivery of the aircraft. At the companies’ facility in Hamburg, officials from both Delta and Airbus met with “laptops back-to-back on either side of a conference room table, pens at the ready and phones dialed to key stakeholders back in the United States and elsewhere.”
After a thumbs up, funds were successfully transferred while licenses were approved. A ceremonial pop of champagne and set of keys were handed over to commemorate the event. For Delta, and its delivery team, the delivery process is nothing new.
For General Manager – Fleet Management Brian Shea, the first A321 becomes joins a list of over 100 new aircraft deliveries he has been a part of. According to Shea, “Though it may seem relatively routine, purchasing a new aircraft, and in this case an entirely new subfleet for Delta, takes a team of passionate and devoted experts armed with their insight, craft and know-how from across the airline to make happen.”
The next day, Delta began the long trek to Minneapolis as Delta 9970, with stops at Reykjavik, Iceland and Goose Bay, Canada for refueling. The journey took nearly 15 hours.
To meet regulatory requirements, Delta 9970 used two sets of crews to complete the journey. A special route was used to ensure the aircraft had constant communication at all times. After nearly 15 hours, the aircraft touched down in Minneapolis around 21:00 local time.
The first A321 will set the quality standard for this fleet type. With two additional aircraft already rolled-out of the factory in Hamburg, Delta will take delivery of 14 additional A321s this year. In the future, many of these aircraft will be produced in Alabama at the new Airbus Mobile facility, thus becoming one of the first operators of the US-made A321.
A state-of-the-art cabin
The Delta A321 has an industry-first A321 cabin feature in the sculpted cabin geometry with high-capacity. Similar to the Boeing Sky Interior, the Delta A321 features high-capacity storage bins, LED lighting, in-flight entertainment, 110v plugs, along with Wifi and Delta Studio.
After years of design, Delta made the A321 the model for future domestic cabins. The aircraft will have 20 First Class seats, 29 Comfort+ seats, and 143 seats in Economy.
Initial Routes to The Sunshine State
Delta will begin its A321 flights on May 1st, with six daily flights between Atlanta and Orlando. As the carrier takes delivery of more A321s, these will be added to more destinations in Florida. A321 service to Ft. Lauderdale is set to begin on June 1st, with additional A321 frequencies to be added throughout the summer, while Tampa is set to start on September 3rd and Ft. Myers and Jacksonville on November 6th.
An Increasingly Airbus Fleet
The A321 joins an increasingly Airbus fleet at Delta. At just over 800 mainline aircraft, the Delta fleet will welcome the A321 along with additional 737-900s, 757-200’s, 717-200’s, and A330-300 242Ts in 2016. In addition to the A321 and A330-300 242T, Delta also ordered the A330-900neo and A350-900 from Airbus. The first A350-900 should enter the Delta fleet in 2017 with the A330neo expected in 2019.