MIAMI — Delta Air Lines took delivery of its very last factory-fresh Boeing aircraft—the 130th 737-900(ER) to join its fleet. From now on, what used to be one of Boeing’s largest customers, has only scheduled for delivery brand-new Airbus planes.
Delta ordered the Boeing 737-900(ER) three times—100 planes in August 2011, further 20 in December 2015, and 10 more in April 2017.
Delta’s newest, and last 737-900(ER) (N930DZ • MSN 63539 / LN 7592), also happens to be one of the final 737 Next Generation aircraft to be produced at Boeing’s final assembly in Renton, Washington.
For now, only military variations of the 737 Next Generation, such as the P-8 Poseidon and the C-40 Clipper, will continue to be built by Boeing.
After flying home on June 27, N930DZ spent nearly two weeks in Kansas City for entry into service work, such as installing IFE equipment and being fitted with split-scimitar winglets.
The plane is now scheduled to operate its first revenue flight on the morning of July 10, 2019, between Atlanta and Nassau, Bahamas.
Closing A Chapter
After 130 Boeing 737-900(ER)s being delivered straight from Boeing, a chapter has momentarily closed between the manufacturer and the Atlanta-based airline.
Today, the airline remains operating a gigantic fleet of 530 Boeing planes, including the 717-200, 737-700/800/900(ER), 757-200/300, 767-300(ER)/400(ER), and 777-200(ER)/(LR).
In early June, Delta phased out the last domestic Boeing 767-300 aircraft from its fleet. The 1993-delivered 767-332 (N1402A • MSN 25989 • LN 506) flew from Atlanta (ATL) to Blytheville (BYH) after having performed its last revenue trip from Salt Lake City (SLC).
And even though the airline has started retiring some of its oldest Boeing planes—beginning with the 747 in December 2017—others are still years away from being sent to the desert.
Delta has entered into a cabin renovation campaign on its fleet of Boeing 767-400(ER)s. The 18-year-old planes are being fitted with the carrier’s latest Delta One Business Class product, hinting that a retirement date for these planes are still quite far away.
However, as the airline continues to phase out its oldest planes, the average age of the active Boeing fleet stands at 16.9 years old.
The Airbus fleet is a much younger 9.2 years old in average.
And with the massive influx of brand-new Airbus A321ceo/neo, A220-100/300, A330-900, and A350-900 aircraft, the average age of the existing Airbus fleet will diminish considerably.
The Day When A Replaced B
Back in December 2017, Delta struck the American aircraft manufacturer with a blockbuster order for 100 Airbus A321neos ACF (Airbus Cabin Flex configuration) plus 100 options.
“This is the right transaction at the right time for our customers, our employees, and our shareholders,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian.
Delta had been reportedly debating on whether placing an order for the Boeing 737 MAX or the Airbus A321neo. Tom Enders, the former Airbus CEO, admitted it was a “hotly-contested campaign.”
Bastian added that the order for the A321neo reflects the airline’s “long-term commitment,” hinting that not only its narrowbody fleet would be manufactured by the European planemaker, but also its widebody/long-haul fleet.
“Boeing has been the most successful aviation company in the world,” Bastian said during last month’s 2019 Code Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Our fleet is composed 60% of Boeing airplanes.”
Notwithstanding, Delta turned its head and allowed Airbus to take another dominant win over its North American competitor.
Delta’s choice for the A321neo confirmed that the Middle of the Market (MoM) segment is practically owned by Airbus and its new A321neo program.
Boeing’s reluctance to introduce a proper Boeing 757-200/300 replacement is now paying its toll. Both Delta and American Airlines—two major historical Boeing 757 operators—have switched to the European manufacturer to replace the older, less fuel-efficient 757s with the new-engined A321neos.
And during this summer’s Paris Air Show, American Airlines purchased 50 Airbus A321XLR aircraft—the long-range A321 variant that could, apples to apples, perfectly replace the older, fuel-hungry Boeing 757s in its fleet.
The new A321neos are coming to replace Delta’s “less technically advanced aircraft,” as said by the airline’s President, Glen Hauenstein.
“The A321neos will be 40% more efficient than the MD-88s and 20% more efficient than the A321ceos,” he said.
The first candidates to leave the fleet are the ex-Northwest Airbus A319/A320s, the oldest Boeing 757-200/300s, and the MD-90s. The smaller MD-88s will be replaced with the new Airbus A220-100/300 aircraft, the first of which was put into service back in February 2019.
Delta Made The Right Choice
With the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX, Delta dodged a bullet. As said by North American investment firm, Cowen & Co, Delta has stepped in to fill a tremendous capacity hole as the 737 MAX crisis unfolds.
The Atlanta-based carrier is the only one in the US not to have purchased Boeing’s ill-fated aircraft. United (UA), American Airlines (AA), and Southwest Airlines (WN), on the other hand, have grounded more than 70 Boeing 737 MAX planes, ultimately crippling its itineraries and killing its forecasted capacity.
“Delta is benefiting from artificially low capacity growth and spillover demand from competitors impacted by the grounding of the MAX,” notes the report by the investment firm.
In April, American Airlines revealed that the 737 MAX crisis would cost approximately $350 million. And with no solution in the immediate forecast, this figure might continue to climb abruptly.
Meanwhile, Delta continues to welcome factory-fresh Airbus A321s, increasing its capacity, and scoring a very positive second quarter.
The airline reported that its total revenue increased by 8.5%, with unit revenue growing by 3.5%—considerably more than what Delta had forecasted in April.
Airbus Ahead: First A330neo Revenue Flight
On the widebody/long-haul side of the spectrum, Boeing had hoped to clinch new wide-body orders from Delta, but the carrier preferred the competing Airbus A350XWB and A330neo instead.
When Delta canceled its inherited order from Northwest for 18 Boeing 787-8 in December 2016, it was clear that the future was painted in Airbus colors.
With no Dreamliners in backlog, Delta jumped overseas and ordered the Airbus A350-900XWB and the A330neo for its future long-haul ambitions.
Just recently, Delta took delivery of its first Airbus A330-900—the first of 35 A330neo aircraft that the Atlanta-based carrier is expected to receive. The delivery marked a special occasion as the airline became the US launch customer of the re-engined variant.
The new A330neo will enter commercial service today on its inaugural flight between Seattle and Shanghai on flight DAL589, expected to depart at 16:00PDT.
Moving towards the narrowbody front, Delta chose the Airbus A321neo as the new backbone of its narrowbody fleet, along with the Airbus A220 to replace the smaller, older MD-88s and 717s.
Once seen as the airline with the most diverse fleet in the continent, Delta is shifting towards a more streamlined Airbus fleet.
With 737-900ER deliveries completed, Delta will ramp up delivery of the Airbus A321. In 2020, the airline plans on taking delivery of a staggering 43 A321 aircraft, split among the current generation A321, and the next generation A321neo.
When combined with the 18 A220s, four A330-900neo and two A350-900s Delta plans on taking delivery of in 2020, the Atlanta-based carrier will look to add 67 Airbus aircraft in total next year.
While impressive, this is only five more planes than what Delta is planning to add from Airbus in 2019. Overall, the airline anticipates on taking 12 fewer aircraft in 2020 than it will in 2019, possibly in an effort to reduce capital expenditures.
Current A319/A320/A321 pilots will have the possibility to upgrade to the wide-body fleet of A330-200/300, A350, and eventually, A330neo.
And as the economics of the elder Boeing 767-300(ER)/-400(ER) and 777–200(ER)/-200(LR) begin to fall behind the newer Airbus jets, Delta might be heading into an all-Airbus direction on its long-haul network. At least as far brand-new airplanes are concerned.
It’s been rumored that Delta will participate in Boeing’s NMA project. But as long as the North American planemaker doesn’t come forward with a proposal, Delta will continue benefiting from its new Airbus planes and its pristine economics.
Written by Enrique Perrella and Benjamin Bearup