A Quick Note on the Delta A350-1000 Order

A350, Airbus, Delta

It’s a holiday, so I normally wouldn’t post today. But I have a backup of things I want to write about, so you get a quicky today on the worst-kept secret in ages… Delta’s decision to order the A350-1000.

This order has been in the works forever, and there have been leaks for over a year. Now, it’s finally official. Delta will order 20 Airbus A350-1000s with an option for 20 more. Deliveries start in 2026. This complements Delta’s 28 A350-900s (plus 16 on order).

The A350-1000 is a big airplane. In fact, it’s probably the only reason that Boeing continues to pour effort into the 777X program. It doesn’t have anything to match now. Because it’s so big, the A350-1000 has not been nearly as popular as the A350-900 model. Here’s a look at the customer list.

Airbus A350-1000 Operator Fleets and Orders

Data via Airbus

Qatar is the largest operator to date, and it would probably be larger if it hadn’t gotten into that fight with Airbus over paint jobs. But it has the most orders by far, and that stands to reason. This is the Emirates playbook with the A380, just using fewer examples of a smaller airplane to achieve the same goal of pumping passengers through a mega-hub.

Qantas chose the A350-1000 for Project Sunrise which will be lightly loaded and have the range to go nonstop to New York and London. That makes up half the order with the rest being standard A350-1000s. Then there’s Air India which has designs on world domination and greatness. The jury is out on that one.

Notice that both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are operators today. At heavily slot-restricted Heathrow, this is a good airplane for the biggest routes where unit costs can drop down to help support lower fares. You see it flying to a lot to India, the US, and some African destinations.

For Delta, this airplane could be the one that makes India actually work. There’s no shortage of passengers in that market, just a shortage of high fares. I would imagine we might see it deployed on hub-to-hub routes like Atlanta – Paris as well. But, Delta says this airplane has up to a 9,700nm range which doesn’t seem right. It should be 8,700nm, I believe, which is still long enough to get pretty much anywhere on earth that Delta cares about from Atlanta (sorry, Perth).

We don’t know how many seats will be onboard just yet, but Delta has A350-900s with 306 seats. The -1000 is probably going to add about 30 more, I’d guess.

It seems strange, but this will replace the 767-300ER in Delta’s long-haul fleet. That airplane is tiny and the A350-1000 is huge, but this is all about cascading upgauging. Flights on the 767-300ER will move up to the 767-400/A330-200 while those flights can move up to the A330-300/900neo. Then it’s up to the A350-900, and those with the highest demand can move to the A350-1000.

This is the same kind of upgauging strategy we’ve seen at other carriers, and especially on the short-haul fleet. Delta will now try to do the same thing on the long-haul fleet. It’s a smart move. Delta already operated the A350-900, so there’s no reason it should stray to a Boeing product that isn’t even certified yet.

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17 comments on “A Quick Note on the Delta A350-1000 Order

  1. The A350-1000 is comparable in size and capacity to the 777-300ER; Delta is likely to configure theirs similarly to Virgin Atlantic’s with a few more seats – probably up to 350 – due to changes in the cabin as part of the Airbus New Production Standard which was not available when VS started getting their A350s.

    Part of the reason for the year plus it took for this deal to get announced compared to when Delta execs started talking about it undoubtedly comes down to the terms, most of which won’t ever be made public. Delta has said it got the MRO deal for the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB 97 engines that power the A350-1000; Delta already has the MRO rights for the Trent 84 engines on the A359 as well as for every other aircraft Delta has on order.

    Delta will use the A350-1000 primarily to develop its transpacific system post-Narita hub. The A35K will esp. be useful for the ICN joint venture hub.
    The newest A350-900s which DL will be getting in 2024 can do just about any route that the A35K can do but the A35K will have much better per-seat economics and better cargo capabilities. The newest A359s will have 275 seats, down 31 seats in total due to more premium seats. The A35K already has much more room for premium seats between the L1 and L2 doors.

    Delta execs have told employees that a whole list of cities in Asia are on the list of potential destinations, most of which DL has served at one point over the past 10 years.

    Like the A359s, the A35Ks will see some European flights but that is not the primary intent.

    The A350-1000 is simply the most capable and cost-efficient widebody aircraft and will give Delta a significant competitive advantage esp. over AA and UA.

    The fact that the A35Ks will start arriving in 2026 means DL will have no gap between its current order book of 12 more A339s and 16 more A359s and the 20 new A35Ks. and there are still 20 more options available for Airbus widebodies so DL has plenty of widebody growth capacity coming.

    1. Is this enough new capacity to allow Delta to clean up at the smaller end of the wide body fleet? It seems like the biggest stain on Delta One’s prestige as a product (besides a lack of competitive elite lounges) is the substandard hard product on all the 767-300s (the old A330-200/300s aren’t great either). I just don’t know what the plan is there.

      1. I don’t get the complaining of the business product on the A330-200/300s. It’s a reverse herringbone seat. There’s nothing wrong with it. I can sleep and get stuff done on my computer.

        The 767-300 is a bit tight in business, but it’s probably the best wide body to fly in coach with it’s 2-3-2 configuration and 18″ wide seats.

        1. actually I was just on a newly refurbished 767-300 in Sept from VCE-JFK. I remembered thinking…..”Wow Delta really did a great job with this.” It’s just too small to install the D1 Suites but the cabin, lavs, bins, sidewalls etc from nose to tail was completely redone and super handsome. I think you’re also gonna see less and less 767 on long haul flying. It’s already seeing more and more secondary markets in Europe. She will probably finish her distinguished career plying the skies between the hubs and Hawaii.

          1. Does DL use the 767s much for flights to South America? Given the low plane utilization, flights from the southern US to places like Rio, Buenos, Aires, Santiago (Chile) etc seem to be where planes (at least those with the range to reach such places) go towards the end of their careers.

            1. Kilroy – Yes, Bogota, Rio, and Quito on the 757/767-300ER with all Buenos Aires plus Sao Paulo – JFK on the 767-400.

    2. If it will give DL such an advantage, why did they only order 20, especially when UA will have between 250 and 300 787s?

      The IGW 787s will give UA even more range and capability than the already exceptional performance they see with the 787-9s and -10s, without the need to risk damaging yields by being forced to fill all those extra seats.

      1. The biggest DL “splash” WB order was several years ago when the bought 25 A339s and 25 A359s. DL’s MO seems to be smaller orders with options and then exercising those options in small batches over time. Some might say its conservative, but the financial results speak for themselves.

    3. But yes, the A350 is a great and capable plane.

      I’m just not sure an order of 20 planes is going to be quite the game changer you think it is, especially with so many planes that will soon be retired.

  2. I’m curious to see how this might impact Emirates’ decision to order the A350-1000. I know that they are constantly blaming Rolls Royce and their engines as the only hold up. But it appears that every other airline is satisfied with the engine performance. Now with potentially 40 delivery slots removed in the prime window that Emirates was claiming to need the aircraft (nevermind that the 777X is continuing to add fuel to that fire), one would have to guess that Emirates is sweating a little. Knowing that an order wouldn’t net them an aircraft until the 2030s is a tough pill to swallow for Sir Tim and his “ultra-intelligent” executive team.

    1. Keep in mind that Emirates operates in a desert environment, and other carriers are unlikely to complain about this publicly (unless they love burning bridges).

  3. Yes the a350-1000 will not be able to fly 9700nm, you’re correct. This is likely some marketing gimmicks passed on from airbus, or delta is looking at the a350-1000 webpage and quoting Airbus directly. 9700nm is achievable with the Sunrise Rear Center Tank and a greatly reduced load factor, trading payload for fuel. It’s a shame delta keeps passing along that inconsistency, or perhaps they’re getting a plane like sunrise??

  4. Nearly all global airlines except United have multiple types of seats and use each aircraft by the market type. Polaris is not even class leading compared to Delta One Suites on the 339 and 359.
    Delta does not need to replace near as many aircraft as United. The 767 fleets are nearly identical in age. Delta is replacing them now with new 339s
    Rolls Royce knows the maintenance costs on the Trent 97 are high right now. Winning the Delta deal means letting them fix their own engines and doing that for other airlines

  5. This won’t be the last order Delta will place for a while.

    Last hear there was heavy speculation for a sizable A330-900neo order, which is persumedly still being negotiated. DL has stated that all their 767s will be replaced by 2030.

    Delta has already publicly shown in their June 2023 investor presentation that they plan to replace the 767-300ERs and 757-200s with the A339 and A321neo respectively. Mild downgauging with the former (199 seats to 194 seats) significant upgauging with the latter (215 seats to 281 seats).


    (pdf warning) https://s2.q4cdn.com/181345880/files/doc_presentations/2023/06/27/Delta-Beyond-2023-Investor-Day-vF-6-26-23.pdf

    1. Correct.
      Delta has about 15 763s that need to retire in a year or so, another dozen plus in 3 to 4 years and the remainder by 2030. The 764s will follow in 2031 to 2034. If Airbus can come up with delivery slots for the A350 two years out, there is no reason to order more aircraft now. They can deliver 339s just as fast and I don’t think the option of 787s or GE powered 339s is off the table. Once the 763s start to come off international routes, pilot staffing gets a little less complex. Once the 764s follow a few years later, Delta would have just two international pilot groups. Adding the 787 becomes more viable. Delta still wants MRO rights on the GEnx which right now is only available on the 787.

      For now, 20 35Ks on top of 16 more of the most capable 359s plus 20 more Airbus widebody options gives Delta lots of room for long haul international expansion. The35K will be similarly configured to UA’s 77Ws but will operate at much lower costs and greater capability.

      There is no future for A321 flights over 8 hours at Delta due to high labor costs per passenger. The 321Neo transcons will only have 148 seats. When the 764s are retired and assuming no new aircraft, Delta’s smallest widebody will be the 332 and the the 333/339.

  6. > For Delta, this airplane could be the one that makes India actually work.

    Until US airlines are allowed to resume overflight of Russia, it will be tough for them to compete for the US-India market.

    Air India has a de facto monopoly on nonstop flights between India and most of the US, because routing around Russian airspace adds so much distance, time, and fuel. AA and UA have continued to run NYC-DEL flights, but even on that route they need to fly 5-6% further than Air India does, which requires passengers to spend ~1.5 more hours in the plane. From the western US (e.g. SFO-DEL), the penalty would be >20%, which is unviable for both economic and passenger experience reasons. US airlines also need to avoid overlight of Iran, which adds flight time for Mumbai and southern Indian destinations like Bengaluru.

    If you’re looking at one-stop itineraries, there is just so much competition. Passengers could connect almost anywhere in Europe or the Middle East, so there are a ~dozen airlines that can all offer similar itineraries, and many have lower costs and higher service levels than AA/DL/UA.

    My guess is that DL will continue to route their India-bound passengers through AMS, and use these new A350-1000s on routes where they don’t have to compete with such a handicap.

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