Analyzing Delta’s 777 Retirement Plan

777, A350, Delta

On the heels of announcing the retirement of its MD-88 and MD-90 fleet on June 2, Delta has now announced that its 777s will leave the fleet by the end of the year. This is the kind of change that becomes a no-brainer when faced with the highly-depressed demand environment we’re now seeing. In fact, you might even consider this a godsend for Delta.

As of March 31, Delta’s widebody fleet makeup was as follows:

Fleet# in Fleet# of SeatsAvg Age# On Order

This chart makes several things stand out. First, the 767s are starting to get old. I think it’s safe to say there will be significantly fewer of those in the fleet going forward. Some of the flying will be replaced by narrowbodies while the rest will have to be replaced by bigger airplanes… until some company produces the true replacement Delta wants.

Some of those A330-200/300s can move into that role, especialy since there are nearly 40 of them that are owned by the airline. They can provide cheap lift. The A330neos will become the Transatlantic airplane of choice along with some West Coast to near-Asia flying. The point of that airplane is that it’s optimized to fly shorter sectors. Then at the top end, we have the A350 and 777 fleets.

The 777 fleet is only 18 airplanes strong. The eight 777-200ER aircraft are already over 20 years old and are primarily scheduled out of Los Angeles and Atlanta primarily to Amsterdam, Paris/CDG, and Tokyo/Haneda. Those can very easily be served with A330-300/900neos and A350s. Now that there is such little demand, it shouldn’t be hard to find the airframes to handle that flying.

The ten 777-200LRs are tougher to replace. Those are newer — only averaging 11 years old — and they fly the longest flights in Delta’s fleet, those over 6,500 nautical miles. Right now, that means the airplane flies:

  • Atlanta – Johannesburg (7,328nm)
  • Atlanta – Shanghai/Pudong (6,655nm)
  • Los Angeles – Sydney (6,506nm)
  • New York/JFK – Mumbai (6,775nm)

There are also positioning flights between Atlanta and both JFK and Los Angeles, of course. But that’s really all these airplanes do… because no other airplane in Delta’s fleet can do it.

With Delta centering its future long-haul fleet on the A330neo and A350, you’d assume one of those has to be the replacement. The A350 is the obvious choice, but it can’t make these runs, at least not in the way Delta has them configured now. Fortunately, there is a solution to that conundrum that may be uniquely appealing due to the current crisis.

According to Delta, the A350-900 range is 6,322nm, so that’s not good enough. It could make LA to Sydney and Atlanta to Shanghai (not that this flight is likely returning anytime soon) marginal at best with weight restrictions on a good wind day, but that’s not a real solution.

That A350 range number is based on the 275 tonne maximum takeoff weight version that Delta ordered. There are other options. In the last couple of years, Airbus has rolled out a “High Gross Weight (HGW)” 280t version which, according to Airbus, can go 8,100nm.

Nobody ever believes what the manufacturer tells you — and rightfully so — so let’s just lop 10 percent off that and say the actual range is 7,290nm. This puts all the routes in range with the exception of Atlanta to Johannesburg. But there is a solution for that as well: the A350-900ULR which has a 9,700nm published range. Even with a 10 percent haircut, that easily can make Atlanta to Jo’burg.

If you’re doing some back-of-the-envelope math, you might think this sounds wrong. After all, Singapore Airlines flies one of its San Francisco to Singapore flights with a non-ULR A350-900. That is nearly the same exact distance as Atlanta to Jo’burg, so why can’t Delta do that? Just look at the configurations. Singapore only puts 253 passengers on its non-ULR A350s while Delta puts 306 onboard. That puts the route out of reach unless Delta wants to go with a significantly less dense configuration. It shouldn’t do that.

The difference between Delta’s A350-900s and the HGW version appears to be a paperwork issue. Aircraft manufacturers do this all the time. If you want a higher max weight, you can pay for it even if it’s just a matter of filing the papers. That may not be surprising, but this is: even the ULR isn’t as different as you might think. That airplane has no extra fuel tanks but rather just uses a different fuel system that allows for higher capacity in existing tanks. The differences are small enough that it can actually be converted back to non-ULR if anyone had a reason to do so.

What this means is that Delta could have an A350 long-haul subfleet and the differences would be almost nothing. The cabin would be identical to the existing fleet. This kind of commonality is easy for an airline like Delta to handle.

Here’s where things get even more interesting. Remember how Delta took on 10 more A350s from a LATAM order as part of the deal to take LATAM out of American’s arms? Well, that means Delta already had more airplanes on order than it wanted before this crisis hit. Considering the depressed demand environment that’s likely to stretch on for some time, Airbus has to be feeling pretty anxious about those orders making it through unscathed.

So, what if Delta went to Airbus last week — obviously something you do before you announce the retirement of the 777 so you can use it as leverage — and said, “Hey guys, we aren’t feeling great about all those airplanes on order, so we have an idea. What if you convert 10 of those to be A350-900ULRs at no extra charge? Then we won’t cancel or defer our orders. Even better, let us make some other modifications and we can just retire this 777 fleet outright. Wouldn’t you love to see it?”

This might not normally work, but in an environment like this one… everything is even more negotiable than usual.

If that happened, then it would open the door for Delta to make this announcement that it was ditching the 777 fleet entirely. It helps to simplify the airline’s operation, and it gives some shiny new toys with a whole lot of range to play with.

Of course, we don’t know what conversations were had with Airbus, but this all makes too much sense. Airbus keeps a big order active and a customer happy, further from Boeing’s arms. Delta gets to simplify its fleet, get more fuel-efficient, and find a use for all those A350s on order that it probably didn’t want any time soon. It all makes too much sense.

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37 comments on “Analyzing Delta’s 777 Retirement Plan

  1. Sad to see the 777 go at DL but they are doing what other airlines are eventually going to have to do, esp. UA. UA has the world’s largest 777-200 fleet including some non-ER models. UA and DL have both issued large displacement bids for pilots but UA has not announced changes to its fleet to make it match the pilot staffing changes.
    AA and UA both have large numbers of 787s on order, just as DL has A350s on order.
    And there is no assurance that AA and UA will both survive outside of bankruptcy which means they could shed dozens of older jets.
    Note also that DL’s retirement of the 777s puts downward pressure on 777 values which could negatively impact AA and UA which will need to use their 777s as collateral.
    And that is just for the US airlines.
    I believe QR has also retired its 777LRs.
    As for the A350’s capabilities, remember that Airbus just managed to get the nod for an airplane that could fly JNB to LHR; range is not the issue on the A350, even at 300 seats. The -1000 has more range. DL could have flown LAX-SYD the 350 if it wanted to but had the 777LRs so consistently said that it would use the LRs; they might have even ordered less capable A350s from the start (indications are they did) because they had the LRs available.
    The problem the 777 never had was the 6000 ft. elevation at JNB; DL supposedly had the blessing from GE to operate the LR engines at the rating of the -300ER (+5k/engine) for takeoff from JNB.
    Remember that the A350 offers two thrust weight versions of a similar engine, one of the -900 and one for the -1000.
    We don’t know what DL and Airbus have come up with but published copies of letters to DL pilots say that there are adjustments that can be made to make the A350 work out of JNB. They didn’t say what.
    It is also possible that DL can start service now with their highest weight A350s, wait for airplanes that are more capable, and put payload restrictions in effect, perhaps just out of JNB. If the A350 can do 16 hours (which is about what ATL-JNB is) then the issue is about takeoff restrictions.
    PR is operating (or did pre-virus) an A350 from MNL to JFK with more chairs than DL.
    And of course DL is an authorized service center for RR engines including those that power the A350 while it had to send the LR’s engines out.
    Keeping the 777s came down to economics for perhaps one route -and then at best in one direction – and it is possible that some version of the A350 might now be able to everything DL currently flies with minimal restrictions, and maybe none at all.

    Sad that DL just invested tens of millions to retrofit the 777 cabins; it was a wonderful ride even in coach – and distinctly more roomy than most airlines.

    The 777s days are numbered. 200s will leave many airline fleets. the -300ER is an older aircraft and less economical than the A350 and the 787-10. The difference is that the A350 has the range to fly ULR routes which the 787 cannot do at 300 plus passengers.

    The competitive implication is notable – DL will be operating A350s or 330NEOs on every route over 12 hours (and maybe less) while AA and UA – so far – will be operating large numbers of 777s. Fuel efficiency matters the most on long flights; funny how years ago, DL was mocked as having an older fleet and now it could have the most fuel efficient longhaul fleet certainly among US airlines and perhaps will be in the top tier of airlines around the globe.

    The virus has hit everyone similarly but as recovery plans for each carrier roll out, it is clear there will be different strategies that will yield different results – some airlines will end up better off while others will be negatively impacted by pre-virus decisions.

  2. As I understand the LR’s are unmatched in cargo carrying ability with the ULR routes. Lots of talk about how cargo has made JHB a cash cow route. Not sure if the 350 can match that, but in unprecedented times there are unprecedented actions to survive. For a long flight the 350 is fine but I do think the 777 is a bit more comfortable (since DL never went 10 abreast). I get it but disappointed. The question is how soon will anyone be filling a 330 to capacity, let alone a 350? An efficient long haul fleet is great but they still need butts in seats to make it profitable.

    1. Keep in mind that S. African Airways is reorganizing right now. Who knows how they will turn out but DL has been the only airline consistently operating nonstop between the US and S. African year round in both directions because of the LR. IIRC, SA has used A350s JNB to JFK nonstop, about 500 SM shorter than ATL-JNB.
      UA started seasonal CPT-EWR service on a 787 but I don’t think the 787 can fly nonstop to the US from JFK.
      The focus on JNB as the key market where the A350’s performance matters (or does not) might be secondary to the competitive environment.

      As for a dedicated cargo worldwide operation on 777s, cargo demand is only as good as the amount of passenger capacity and the subsequent belly capacity. DL is adding back some passenger routes like ATL-FRA with an A330-300, larger than what it operated there before the crisis, likely because the 333 has more cargo capacity and that is more important, even with capped 60% load factors – which DL is doing for now as part of “social distancing.”

      The 777LRs are passenger versions so probably do not have the main deck floor joists necessary for a full cargo aircraft which is why DL and QR’s passenger 777LRs might not survive as dedicated freighters. They are useful for belly cargo and a carrier could potentially put lighter density cargo on the main passenger deck but I’m not sure if anyone is willing to do that…. we will see though.

      And the LR’s engines probably can be sold to 777-300ER operators. There are components perhaps even the new seats that can be harvested and sold from both fleets.

  3. Cranky – is there a demand for these jets for freighter conversion? I would think there would be some interest from some carriers. To echo another – It does make me wonder why Delta does not create a dedicated cargo division with these jets? Diversifying revenue in really tough times could be useful. I realize that they do carry some cargo already, but creating a dedicated cargo division using these jets may make some sense ( I don’t run an airline, so I have no idea all of the work involved with it).

    1. BSOD – All good questions. I’ve been told that the 777-200LR is not easy to convert to cargo specs and would be very expensive. That being said, if someone can get the airframe cheap enough, they might see if a conversion program is worthwhile. That won’t be Delta, however.

      On your second question, remember that Delta used to have a dedicated freighter operation through Northwest. As I understand it, freighter operations do not do well during most times. Right now is an exception, but is it worth standing up an entire separate organization for something that is probably a short to medium term need at best?

    2. When Sun Country announced their agreement with Amazon, everyone was shocked. Seems like a brilliant decision in retrospect.

  4. Cranky,
    Is it wrong to presume that many of the older planes that Delta still uses came from NW?

    1. The 330s and many 757s (the 753s specifically) and A320/319s came from NW. NW never had any 767s or 777s, though

    2. On the chart above, the A330’s came from NW. DL brought the rest to the party, or purchased them post-merger.

  5. Drastic times equals drastic measures and Cranky is spot on with assessment. Over at A-Net and on YouTube, there are a bunch of hand wringers crying about the loss of the 777 and a Boeing aircraft type coming out of Delta’s fleet. They are especially crying over an American airline using so many Airbus products. However those commentators aren’t running a business.

    My current wonderment – does one flight/one destination determine a success for an entire airline? At our current market conditions ATL-JHB financially would be better off with DL feeding AMS and KLM finishing the trip. Currently is it better to have DL fill more seats for Virgin Australia from LAX? Yes the DL pilots union May have some words about this with management, but there’s a lot of them needing time to retain to 330/350 flying and hoping for long haul rebounding at some point.

    1. I agree that Delta can likely rely on partner’s to reach South Africa/Australia in the near term until updated A350s can be delivered. Otherwise Shanghai can be reached from Seattle, and JHB from JFK (likely). Some one-stop itineraries are likely lost, but that is a concern for later once passenger traffic returns to normal.

    2. SYVJEFF – I think that’s completely right. Does Delta need to serve Jo’burg? Probably not. If it wants to do it, there are options down the line with higher gross weight aircraft. But it won’t be the end of the world. I’d imagine Sydney is a different story. The joint venture with Virgin Australia (if it still exists) likely requires Delta to serve Sydney. But that is something Delta can do with the A350 at 800nm fewer miles.

    3. Given that a Delta Flight ops memo (which has been published on the web) says that Delta and Airbus have been working to make the A350 capable of flying specifically to SYD and JNB, the stigma about what the A350 can and can’t do will be shown to be incorrect.

      The A350-1000 – which Latam had on order and Delta inherited the order for – is more capable than the -900s that Delta operated, and Delta didn’t even operate the most capable -900s possible, esp. at the beginning.

      DL operated less capable A350-900s because it had the LRs available. With enough A350s on order, they can pay Airbus to build the airplanes that are capable of doing what Delta needs – and the cost to do so is far less than keeping the LRs around.

      Virgin Australia AND S. African are both in reorganization. Delta is not walking away from two high profile markets when some of its chief competitors might be forced to cut their international operations.

      And it is still possible that American and United might be going through the ringer as well – and both of them have partners and operations to Australia.

      otoh, if Delta thought it was going to need to file for bankruptcy, it would not have committed to getting rid of aircraft which could be used as collateral…. note that Delta’s decision will involve a $1 billion non-cash charge. The 777 fleet -esp. the LRs have value but Delta apparently does not believe it needs to access the value of that fleet as collateral.

      American and United have much larger 777 fleets and they very likely DO need to use their 777s for collateral.

      Strategically, DL’s decision to retire the 777s is more worrisome for AA and UA than it is for whether DL can get the A350s in/out of JNB.

  6. Interesting. A field-day for all of us to figure out what an airline should do. I keep looking at all of those beautiful planes sitting on runways around the country. I wish them well trying to figure out what to do with those planes if they get them off the runways. I trust they have a crystal ball to see future airline service demand. What does demand look like?

    Business demand/need to travel? Can you assume business travel demand will be just it as was before all of this? I can’t believe businesses will not make major re-assessments at to why they are located where they are and why they have to travel.

    Consumer demand/financial capability? Can you assume people have the money or will,be able to generate what they used to have to travel as they did before? Off to Disney World, some beach in some beautiful locations, to some college or pro sports event, to some glorious National Park, to some foreign country, different, exotic, assuming you will be able to get back, to visit relatives you haven’t talked to, seen for at least a week now? Really?

    Willingness to travel?. Can you assume people want do anything that requires them to get to the airport hours and hours early to just wait forever to get through security and medical checks by those. who knew, multi-talented TSA workers?

    Airline desire to be what they were? Will airlines think its worthwhile to keep servicing all of their vast worldwide networks? Domestic alone, can they find enough financially-stable regionals having aircraft both they and consumers want, with pilots who have the required training and experience to fly them, all the while at ridiculously low pay, to serve all of those off-the-mainline route communities?

    Competition? How many airlines will there be next week, next month, next year?

    Questions, questions. I hope I’m still around for awhile, I won’t be flying much like I did before. Good luck!

  7. One factor that I would think plays into the ATL-JNB route is Johannesburg’s elevation (5500 feet), which means some combination of (a) more fuel required for takeoff, since you have to go faster to get the necessary lift and (b) it can’t carry as much weight, including fuel. Any idea how this factors into the maximum range of the different aircraft? Because that obviously makes that flight significantly different from SFO-SIN (both of which are essentially at sea level), even if the cabin configuration on the A350-900 were set up in the same way as Singapore Airlines.

  8. One factor that I would think plays into the ATL-JNB route is Johannesburg’s elevation (5500 feet), which means some combination of (a) more fuel required for takeoff, since you have to go faster to get the necessary lift and (b) it can’t carry as much weight, including fuel. Any idea how this factors into the maximum range of the different aircraft? Because that obviously makes that flight significantly different from SFO-SIN (both of which are essentially at sea level), even if the cabin configuration on the A350-900 were set up in the same way as Singapore Airlines.

    1. Jon – Sadly I don’t know the answer myself in terms of specific range impact, but there’s no doubt that the hot and high issues at JNB create more performance probs. I’m guessing south/eastbound would be easy.

    2. Before Delta took the 777-200LR, didn’t they make a fuel stop in Dakar on the JNB-ATL leg but not the ATL-JNB? (And I think before that they flew ATL-DKR-JNB in both directions, serving passengers on the DKR segments.)

  9. I’m guessing this isn’t the end of the story. I saw a report in Airways Magazine that Delta is also cutting between half and two-thirds of its Boeing 717 fleet.

    It should be interesting to hear the airlines’ presentations at the Wolfe Research Global Transportation & Industrials Conference tomorrow. While some airlines have been more public than others about their concerns, I think we can be quite sure that all of them are developing contingency plans. I saw Helane Becker, a highly regarded airline analyst, characterize the CARES money as essentially an unemployment insurance plan that’s being managed by the airlines. I think she’s spot on.

    All of the major airlines have been contributing to their pension plans over the last few profitable years. That money can’t be used to finance operations directly, but it can be used to help the airlines indirectly by allowing them to offer sweetened early retirement packages and reduce long term expenses. Don’t forget that one of American’s main creditors in its last bankruptcy was the PBGC.

    Make no mistake. All of the airlines will be smaller coming out of this. Yet I find it quite interesting that the big U.S. airlines are retrenching with an eye toward the future, not merely shrinking for the sake of shrinking. From what I’ve seen, none of them have deferred new aircraft, but are retiring older ones, thus simplifying and modernizing their fleets. As much as some are rooting for particular airlines to be liquidated, I seriously doubt that will happen to the big four in the U.S. Obviously, some airlines have less debt than others. That’s not unusual in business. But that, in and of itself, isn’t a death sentence. There are ways to refinance and reorganize debt without going through bankruptcy – if all sides are willing to find solutions.

  10. The bigger news out of this entire displacement bid is that DL anticipates to be about 30% smaller in Q3 of 2021. Given that we are entering a huge recession (larger 2008), It’s going to probably take them at least another 3 years after that to get back pre-COVID size.

    UA seems to be displacing as much if not even more than DL. AA seems to kidding itself with its cash situation.

    The LCCs are sitting pretty right now with no widebodies sitting around.

    Oh and 717 are gone from NYC, which means DL will probably downgauge a lot of those 717 routes back down to RJs. Will be interesting to see how they deal with the decreased demand + TATL traffic. Without the connection opportunities, those feeder flights to JFK will have a hard time to fill up.

    UA is facing the same problem at EWR.

    AA won’t be the only one facing a problem of trying to figure out how to utilize gates/slots to keep LCCs out. Although, I expect only AA to be losing a lot of slots. We will see between B6 and DL, who can add back those flights at JFK quicker to claim AA’s slots.

    In normal circumstance, one would think DL can just put a bunch of RJs to squat on slots, but now it deals with huge battle at SEA and LAX also along with need to sit on LGA slots for a while.

    Oh and BOS/CVG/RDU are going to be much smaller. If DL as a whole is going to be 30% smaller a year from now and they are sticking it through at SEA to keep pace with AS, it’s the smaller “hubs”/focus cities that are going to suffer. Closing CVG base should be a pretty good indication of where that station is trending.

    B6 is getting really lucky here. DL cutting a lot at JFK and BOS right now. AA is down to almost nothing at JFK. UA is doing minimal flying out of EWR. Openings everywhere. No competition for it at JFK/BOS for these openings. And only NK is also likely to compete for opening at EWR.

    1. FC
      DL’s domestic capacity reductions at JFK and BOS are in line with B6. You can believe that B6 is going to take advantage of huge opportunities because the big 3 are going to retreat from major markets, but that is simply not borne out with any long-term capacity cuts. B6 is cutting short-term as much as other carriers in domestic markets.

      it is also normal that not every airline makes it through every crisis. There is no possible way that all of the current US airlines will make it through this crisis which is by far the deepest in the history of commercial aviation.
      People got lulled into the idea post 9/11 that airlines didn’t fail because they merged or their assets were bought.
      This time, there will be airlines fail and other airlines will step in to take over whatever capacity they see fit to acquire.

      Nobody is rooting for any airline to fail but there are a whole lot of people that don’t want to accept that businesses do fail and there is simply no reason for the US government to continue to prop up inefficient airlines when the majority of the US airlines have been able to access capital markets and can cut their costs down to levels that are necessary to survive.

      1. B6 is at 56 departures out of BOS and 70+ departures out of NYC in June. DL is at 13 departures on the day I checked out of BOS. Its cuts at JFK is a lot more than 70%. There is all these routes that normally has a lot of traffic that only has B6 operating on it now. Even AA is scheduling about 30 departurs in June out of BOS.

        You are quite delusional in thinking that DL is going to be 30% smaller and not going to disproportional cut one of these weak new hubs and focus cities. If you are so convinced that DL is not cutting at BOS/CVG/RDU/SEA/NYC, where is that 30% cut coming from?

        This is an once in decade opportunity for LCCs that have good cash position. LAX is going to look different 3 to 5 years from now. WN will be looking to grab a lot of real estate there. AS is going to be able to defend its position at SEA and build up at SFO while UA keeps that station low. NK is going to be able to get more gates at EWR, LAX and more slots at LGA. And if they are aggressive, they will be the largest carrier at FLL.

        1. I will let you hold onto the thought that DL is going to unwind its strategic objectives in major markets including BOS and NYC.

          You can also let us know when WN or any other carrier succeeds at taking gates outside of bankruptcy that other airlines operate.

          There simply is not enough traffic to justify operating most routes -we have been hearing that for a couple months here on CF. The momentary blips in increased scheduling now are no more of an indication of a viable return of demand than those that tout the TSA’s traffic statistics as evidence of a major rebound- from down 96% to just down 91%. and that is as true for BOS, JFK, RDU and any other city.

          Airlines are aggressively discounting seats and many airlines are offering deeply discounted or free seats for medical personnel; employees fill large portions of many flights.

          Traffic is rebounding but the notion that B6 or any carrier is going to gain market share based on anything that has occurred so far is simply not realistic.

          B6 is not going to succeed at gaining anything. The same terminal constraints at BOS still exist; JFK is still slot controlled and all US slots are protected until later this year.

          And the notion that DL can’t do the routes it needs to do including SYD and JNB, which are key parts of DL’s network, wiht the A350 is equally not realistic.

          DL is scheduling LOS for the new term. DL built a presence in Africa and it will be there including to JNB.

          Of course the beauty of CF is that these posts stay active; I suspect there will be a lot of people who will get real quiet when DL operates A350s to SYD and JNB and maybe even BOM when 2021 rolls around.

          1. Oh, I don’t think DL is winding down its operation in NYC. In fact with AA cutting down on NYC, this is DL’s time to consolidate its position. You are the one that believes that DL should fight it out in BOS when the much bigger fish is down the road and ready to be captured. Although given that they are preparing to be 30% smaller by end of Q3 2021 based on their letter to ALPA, it’s hard to say how much it can really grow in NYC for the next couple of years.

            So let’s look at some of the things you have said already:
            – DL will not cut back on any of its focus cities or hubs
            – DL will only delay but no abandon its “focus city” efforts in SJC/AUS/BNA or MIA
            – no JFK slots are becoming available.
            – BOS will still be gate constrained
            – nobody will be gaining gates at LAX from this.
            – BOM comes back in 2021

            I can tell you the JFK slots is already wrong, because AA has returned some slots already. Some of your other points will look quite foolish by the end of this.

            here is what I will predict:
            – AA files for chapter 11 but avoids chapter 7. Become dramatically smaller. Forced to downsize JFK/LGA/LAX significantly
            – AA will also be making significant cuts at MIA and PHX in the near to medium term
            – UA will consolidate it’s west coast ops to SFO and turn LAX into a focus city
            – UA will be smaller for quite a while at EWR and downsize IAD
            – From above, EWR will not be constrained for several years, allowing ULCCs and B6 time to grow
            – LGA slots will become available from AA/UA and possibly others. WN/NK/B6 will be fighting out for those slots
            – JFK will not be constrained for a while as AA downsizes to probably 40x flights a day and international carriers cut flights.
            – DL will cut back at BOS/CVG/RDU significantly and give up on MIA. Consolidate its TATL operation to JFK and add more flights there. It will not give up on SEA, but will be quite a bit smaller at LAX in the short to medium term
            – WN will get more slots at LGA and DCA. It will also acquire additional gate space that it treasures at LAX.
            – WN will become larger than AA at PHX and become more of a hub-spoke carrier. It will get as large as UA at DEN in terms of domestic seat count.
            – NK will have a hard time staying independent. Most likely merging with F9, B6 or WN.
            – If NK does remain independent, it will be the largest carrier at FLL and be a lot larger at EWR/LGA.
            – WN will look to acquire someone. Most likely B6, AS or NK.
            – If B6 remains independent, it will prioritize NYC expansion over anything else. It will grow at NYC ahead of BOS. And BOS ahead of FLL. LGB is gone and MCO will be small for many years. FLL likely will not recover to pre-COVID size for 3 or 4 years.
            – BOS will not be busy for a few years. AA will be down to hub routes. UA/WN will be reduced. DL down to focus city. B6 is unlikely to grow significantly while others are stagnant. Gates will be available.
            – AS will have plenty of cash to defend its position at SEA and grow at SFO again.
            – SEA will be a yield nightmare due to DL’s willingness to stick it out there.

            1. I agree with a lot of FC’s predictions with a few caveats:

              – I think UA will keep IAD more than people expect because the one healthy industry in a recession is DC federal government (including the Virginia suburbs)

              – Since they’re joining OW and AA is weak, I think AS has a big opportunity at LAX in addition to SFO and defending SEA. The question is whether they’ll have the resources to take advantage of them. If they have to choose between LAX and SFO, I think LAX is the better opportunity, since I’m not sure any of other alliance airlines will fight hard to protect it. And they have an advantage over WN there in that they operate much smaller aircraft like the E175 that can more effectively serve smaller cities in the west.

              – I don’t think WN will acquire anyone. Their labor unions will want all available jobs for themselves, not some acquired employees. WN desperately wants to avoid its first ever layoffs, and merger is insanely complex. They would prefer to let competitors die and take market share organically.

              – Clarification: are you saying B6 will or will not try to re-grow market share at BOS? (which is completely possible without even adding new gates if other carriers stay dialed back there)

              – I think UA is better positioned to re-add international from EWR than DL is at JFK, because DL will have a hard time adding feed at JFK when local demand is at LGA. UA will have plenty of local demand at EWR supporting flights that can feed international as demand returns.

              – AA may give up LGA slots/gates, but I don’t see UA doing it, since all they do is feed their hubs.

              – With MIA the premier Latin hub, it’s hard to see both AA and DL backing off.

              And one counterpoint: “You are quite delusional in thinking that DL is going to be 30% smaller and not going to disproportional cut one of these weak new hubs and focus cities. If you are so convinced that DL is not cutting at BOS/CVG/RDU/SEA/NYC, where is that 30% cut coming from?”

              DL can quite easily operate ATL, DTW, and MSP at half capacity and still have viable hub banks. SLC is already pretty small, but could probably still lose a bank and still be viable.

            2. Tory,
              I agree w/ most of your points except
              – DL has shifted service to local markets from LGA to JFK for right now. Despite what some believe, LGA and JFK had similar levels of local market demand all along to the same destinations.
              B6 only has JFK so that is what they have to rebuild. AA is flying little from LGA and that is DL’s primary competitor. If you have to pick one NYC airport to serve right now, JFK is it – and it also serves the purpose of feeding international flights.

              – There simply is not enough flown flights data from any carrier to come to meaningful conclusions about DL’s current focus cities- CVG/RDU as well as its BOS hub. When demand returns to a sustained REVENUE LEVEL of 25-40% and if DL isn’t rebuilding those cities, then you can start coming to conclusions, but we aren’t there yet. As of now, DL has not cut its domestic schedules at either BOS or JFK. DL was the dominant airline at LGA, JFK, RDU and CVG. They simply do not have to schedule flights to chase very low levels of REVENUE – not just boardings.

              – as for SEA, so far as we know, SeaTac has not suspended its rule which links gate access to the amount of flight activity which explains why BOTH AS and DL are scheduling much higher levels of flight activity compared to other hubs.

              – all DL has added at MIA are some regional jet connecting flights and some more mainline capacity. MIA is still predominantly a spoke to their hubs. DL did move forward wiht their joint venture application with Latam. They may not grow MIA as fast as they otherwise would (or maybe they will) but they aren’t “giving up” on what they have now.

              – gate allocations will fall only if one or more carriers go into bankruptcy. That hasn’t happened yet. Even if there are gates to be had at LAX, WN could be forced to spread its operations at one or more terminals quite distant from their current terminal 1 home. I’m not so sure they are interested in doing that.

              – WN said just this morning that their revenue for the 2nd quarter will be down 80%. We are in the sifting out period right now. The government prevented a wholesale collapse of the industry but the key date is Sept 30 when it becomes clear what airlines have to do to succeed and how well they are positioned to do so. The little bit of schedule activity now is not meaningful for drawing conclusions given government help and very low levels of demand.

  11. For reference the SQ -900ULR models features no forward cargo loading system and door is built shut.
    Not sure you can truly convert a -900 to a ULR without a weight penalty

  12. There is a segment of the population in the Delta Flight Operations Team that privately refers to the A-350 as “The Volkswagen” due to Airbus’s penchant for “overstating” fuel economy and, therefore, aircraft range, ala the car manufacturer. Maybe it’s just a European thing.

    To hear some of them describe it, the introduction of the A-350 was poorly executed, especially from a pilot training perspective. Evidently, lots of “green slips” (overtime) were paid until a cadre of pilots equal to the needs of the airline were brought up to speed. In general, Delta was quite under-staffed for pilots this past year and that may actually save some pilot jobs come this October.

    Perhaps some of Delta’s meetings with Airbus will address why the A-350ULR is even needing at all in South Africa. It will allow Airbus to save face by providing the URL at the price of the straight A-350. One thing I will say about Boeing is that their fuel economy and aircraft range predictions are usually spot on. Airbus, like Volkswagen, uses theirs as bait and switch marketing tools.

    1. That would be a truly shocking allegation that Boeing actually gives accurate figures, just about every marketing number for every aircraft have wildly unrealistic assumption about the ranges and performance of aircraft.

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