The response to last week’s post about American’s shifting fleet mix was so overwhelmingly positive, that I’ve gone and looked at both Delta and United as well. First up? Heeeeeere’s Delta.
What really stands out here versus American is that the historical reliance on smaller airplanes has returned to the mainline fleet at Delta. Nobody else has done that yet, but I’d expect others will follow. As always, the devil is in the details. So let’s get detailed, shall we? All of this data is for the end of each year listed EXCEPT for Delta in 2000. For whatever reason, the data I found there was for the end of June. Close enough. And yes, this includes Northwest even before the merger.
Aircraft With Fewer Than 120 Seats
Let’s start with the small end of the scale.
Back in 2000, Delta was already retiring its 737-200s but those DC-9s were going strong. Over time, Northwest started to retire them and there were almost none of these left by 2010. (The bigger DC-9-50s lasted longer, but that comes later.) You’d have thought that this would have all shifted down to the regionals, and it did for awhile. But thanks to a sweetheart deal with Southwest, Delta picked up those 717s for a song and now have a large fleet replacing regional jets all over the country.
The Next Generation: Those 717s will fly for a long time, but we now know that the C-Series is going to carry the torch well into the future. Delta has ordered 75 of them with options for 50 more, but not all of those will fit into this size category. Some could be for larger CS300 aircraft.
Aircraft with 120 to 140 Seats
In the next category up, Delta has far fewer aircraft than American does, probably because it has so many of the smaller aircraft above.
Once Delta retired its 737-300s, it really wasn’t looking for much in this size category. Sure, it had a few 737-700s, but those 10 airplanes were meant specifically for missions where the aircraft needed special performance to operate at an airport with a full load. Delta’s real growth was in the bigger 737-800.
Northwest, meanwhile, still had its DC-9-50s doing wonders on short haul routes with its A319s flying longer distances. Though the DC-9-50 finally retired only a couple years ago, the A319s show no sign of letting up. Delta continues to invest in the interiors. It’s interesting to see the focus Northwest had on these smaller aircraft (DC-9/A319) while Delta really just did not.
The Next Generation: This is likely to also be C-Series country. Delta will undoubtedly upgauge some of its orders to the CS300 and that will slot quite nicely here.
Aircraft with 140 to 160 Seats
You want to talk about cats and dogs? Delta has it all in this category.
I mean, just look at this mess. Yes, the 727s are gone. We can ignore that. But Delta has a pre-merger fleet of 737-800s that formed the backbone of this sized-fleet for many years. The 737-800 tends to do longer haul flights within North America and serves that market well. Then there’s the A320, which was inherited from Northwest. Though capacity is similar, the A320 is expected to operate more on shorter to medium haul routes that need higher capacity than, say, a 717. You’d think that would be enough, but oh no. There’s the Douglas fleet.
Delta has been really bullish on Douglas aircraft lately because they have been so cheap to acquire. The MD-88s are on their way out, but still not for a few more years. The MD-90 fleet has only grown, however, since it’s very efficient. Delta scooped those up with ease since nobody wanted them, and it has now built quite the formidable fleet.
The Next Generation: It’s not clear what’s going to happen here. Presumably at some point Delta will decide to go with either the 737MAX or 320neo if it feels the need, but for now it has focused its aircraft orders on smaller and bigger aircraft while sticking with second-hand current generation aircraft to fill out this fleet.
Aircraft with 175 to 200 Seats
This is where things start to get a little fuzzier with Delta. Yes, the 767-200 may have been a bit bigger than this, but… close enough.
The 767-200 was mostly gone from the scene by 2000 and it was the 757 that led the way forward. It still does, with Delta investing more money into updating what remains of that fleet. But as with other airlines, Delta is shedding some 757s and focusing it on its important longer haul, thinner missions. The 737-900 has started to replace it in some cases, with about half of the 120 on order having been delivered. And Delta just took delivery of its first of 82 A321s recently which will further help replace the 757. Why did Delta need both? That’s not very clear. I’m sure the airline just got a smoking deal on both orders.
The Next Generation: Delta hasn’t really focused on the next generation here just yet. It continues to rely on new current generation aircraft and will for many years to come. It has no neo or MAX aircraft on order, but at some point, I’m sure it will.
Aircraft with 200 to 240 Seats
I realize this is one weird grouping of aircraft that’s probably not very indicative of how these are being used.
The old L-1011s are gone, but there are still plenty of other old aircraft in this category. The 757-300s serve a very specific purpose. They do mid-haul flights with a whole bunch of people on them. Think Florida and Hawai’i. Those aren’t going anywhere in the near future, I’d think, since they do their job well.
That means we have some A330-200s lying around from the Northwest days and a whole bunch of old 767-300s that soldier on. These can keep flying for awhile, but then what?
The Next Generation: Delta doesn’t seem particularly interested in being in this space. Sure it has the 18 787-8s that were originally ordered by Northwest long ago. But those keep getting deferred, and it’s fair to wonder if they’ll ever be delivered. The 767-300s, meanwhile, are at least partially going to be replaced by something bigger….
Aircraft with 240 to 260 Seats
This used to be Delta’s sweet spot, but no longer.
Back in the day, this was the size to have. Northwest flew the heck out of its DC-10s and Delta had its L-1011s, but those went to the boneyard years ago. Now the only thing in this space is the 767-400. Delta has had 21 of these for a long time, and they do a nice job of serving larger European markets. But this fleet isn’t getting any bigger.
The Next Generation: There doesn’t appear to be any appetite for this space. While American has a 777-200 and A330-200 niche product here, Delta wants to go bigger. And so it shall.
Aircraft with 270 to 300 Seats
Wondering where the growth is when it comes to widebodies? Here it is.
Back in 2000, Delta flew a few MD-11s but it was the 777-200s that was to be the flagship of the fleet. While we all know the MD-11s have been out of there for years, the 777-200s are still around and in greater quantities. But this is no longer the flagship, and the real future is with Airbus. Delta inherited those A330-300s from Northwest and opted to order 10 more on its own. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in this category.
The Next Generation: Delta has ordered 25 A330-900neos which will primarily replace the much smaller 767-300s on flights to Europe. I’d imagine we’ll see more of these ordered in time, if the airplane lives up to its promises.
Aircraft with More Than 300 Seats
I’ve saved the big guy for last. While I note “more than 300 seats,” this is really a WHOLE lot more than that.
You might not remember that Northwest operated 747-200s well into the 2000s. This doesn’t even include the freighter versions that kept flying even longer. But for years, the 747-400 was Northwest’s Asian machine. Those four engines aren’t cheap to operate, and the airplane has fallen out of favor. These are going to be gone in the next couple of years.
The Next Generation: The A350-900 is the future, and Delta has 25 of those on order, but it will be a big downsizing from the 747. Delta seems to be much happier with an airplane smaller than the 747. All that being said, Delta loves a good deal. There are some A380s coming on the market soon, and I bet they’ll be cheap…. (Seriously though, I’d be shocked.)