MIAMI — Any loyalty that Delta Air Lines once had to the Boeing family or aircraft is most certainly gone, now that it announced a second order for widebody Airbus aircraft in just over a year.  Instead, Delta opted to order 50 Airbus jets — 25 A330-900neos and 25 A350-900s, as first reported by Leeham News and Comment and confirmed by Airbus.

The deal includes Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines powering the Airbus A330neo and Trent XWB engines powering the A350 XWB.

Back in April, the airline requested bids to replace its entire fleet of 747-400s and some of 767-300s (of which they are the world’s largest operator), and both Airbus and Boeing submitted their bids. Boeing proposed a mix of 777Xs and 787-9s.

A rendering of Delta's A330neo. (Credits: Airbus S.A.S.)
A rendering of Delta’s A330neo. (Credits: Airbus S.A.S.)

The airline currently flies both Airbus single-aisle and widebody aircraft, including 57 A319ceos,  69 A320ceos, 11 A330-200s and 21 A330-300s. In addition to the order announced today, Delta has an order backlog of 10 A330-300s and 45 A321ceos, bringing its total Airbus backlog to 105 aircraft.

Delta has been an outspoken proponent of the A330neo program since before its official launch at this year’s Farnborough Air Show, and its order for that type has long been expected. As a current operator of the A330-200 and -300, Delta already has a stake in the aircraft, and its top-up order of 10 A330-300HGW in September 2013 only further cemented that commitment.

And with the estimated 12-14 percent reduction in fuel burn brought by the A330neo, it appears to make economic sense for Delta to stick with the popular family of jets.  At the time of that order (the first Airbus order in Delta’s history), Delta specifically rejected the A350 because it had not been thoroughly vetted yet, and delivery slots were not available in the near term.  But times have changed, and Delta may have found a way to rectify their unorthodox fleet strategy with the Airbus order book.

(Credits: Jeremy Dwyer Lindgren)
(Credits: Jeremy Dwyer Lindgren)

Delta has managed to shave untold millions off of its acquisition costs by purchasing aircraft at the end of their service life in exchange for deep discounts for filling the production gap.  Though rather unusual, the same is true of its A350 order.  Despite the aircraft not having entered service yet (which it will do in mid-December with Qatar) and Emirates’ cancellation of a 70-aircraft order has created a large block of available early delivery slots, and Airbus was undoubtedly anxious to fill them.

It appears Delta will have a truly new widebody aircraft for the first time in decades, thanks to Emirates.  Although a specific delivery date has not yet been given, it is likely that the airline’s first A350s will arrive even before the A330neo, scheduled for first delivery in 2017.  Boeing could not offer early delivery slots for the 787-9, and they suggested a temporary measure of providing five 777-200LRs, which Delta already operates, that would also help Boeing to fill the production gap of the 777 classic.  Unsurprisingly, Delta declined that offer.

It is worth noting, however, that Delta has a standing order inherited from Northwest for 18 787-8s, which are scheduled for delivery starting in 2020. By that point, the airline will have already received a large chunk of this new order from Airbus.  In the long run, the 787 will likely serve as a more comparable replacement for the 767-300, but Delta appears more interested in upgauging its 767 fleet in order to boost profitability–one of the reasons for their purchase of the larger 767-400 in the first place.

The Airbus fleet will likely start replacing the oldest members of the 767 fleet on the highest-traffic routes, while the newer 767s are shuffled to lower traffic routes to await replacement by the 787.  Among the Airbus fleet, the A330neo will likely spend most of its time in transit to Europe and South America, whereas the A350, which has a longer range, will be used primarily on trans-Pacific routes. Delta is not expected to comment on this order until its official roll-out on December 11.