Here’s Why Delta Is Unlikely To Become An All-Airbus Airline Soon

Delta has gone on a spree of Boeing retirements this year. With avgeeks around the world still absorbing the announcement of retirements of the Boeing 777s, Delta laid on another announcement that it would be retiring all of its 91 Boeing 717s and the remaining 49 Boeing 767-300ERs. For many, this sounded like the start of Delta moving to an all-Airbus fleet, and while it may be, there are still plenty of years to go before Delta gets there.

Delta Getty
Getting to an all-Airbus fleet will take quite some time. Photo: Getty Images

Delta’s current fleet and plans

Delta Air Lines currently operates the following 17 types of aircraft:

  • Airbus A220
  • Airbus A319
  • Airbus A320
  • Airbus A321
  • Airbus A330-200
  • Airbus A330-300
  • Airbus A330-900neo
  • Airbus A350-900
  • Boeing 717-200
  • Boeing 737-700
  • Boeing 737-800
  • Boeing 737-900ER
  • Boeing 757-200
  • Boeing 757-300
  • Boeing 767-300ER
  • Boeing 767-400ER
  • Boeing 777-200ER and -200LR

This year, Delta has been on a mammoth plan of retiring aircraft. The airline waved goodbye to its McDonnell Douglas “Mad Dog” fleet with the MD-90s and MD-80s exiting in June. Then came the announcement of the retirement of the small Boeing 777 fleet of 18 aircraft. After that, Delta announced the retirement of all of its Boeing 737-700s, seven 767-300ERs, and 10 Airbus A320s.

Delta Shanghai
Delta only had 18 777s in its fleet, making them a prime candidate for retirement to reduce inefficiencies at the carrier. Photo: Getty Images

Now, in September, Delta again announced another spur of retirements, though these ones are further out with the 717s and 767-300ERs exiting, at the latest, in December 2025. Once those aircraft are retired, Delta is expected to have the following aircraft in its fleet:

  • Boeing 737-800
  • Boeing 737-900ER
  • Boeing 757-200
  • Boeing 757-300
  • Boeing 767-400ER
  • Airbus A220-100
  • Airbus A220-300
  • Airbus A319
  • Airbus A320
  • Airbus A321ceo
  • Airbus A321neo
  • Airbus A330-200
  • Airbus A330-300
  • Airbus A330-900neo
  • Airbus A350-900
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Delta Airlines A220
Delta currently only operates the A220-100, though it does have 50 firm orders for the -300 and is awaiting delivery of those. Photo: Getty Images

With the addition of the A220-300 and A321neo and the retirements of four types mentioned above, Delta will be down to 15 aircraft types, with the A320ceo and neo family sharing commonality, the same with the A330 fleet, A220, the 737, and 757 fleets. From a pilot perspective, the A330s and A350s have a common type rating as do the 767-400ERs and 757s, so Delta can essentially maintain one pool of pilots to operate across both of those fleets.

By family, Delta will have the following aircraft:

  • Boeing 737 Next Generation
  • Boeing 757
  • Boeing 767-400ER
  • Airbus A220
  • Airbus A320ceo/A320neo
  • Airbus A330ceo/A330neo
  • Airbus A350
Delta Air Lines Salt Lake
Delta operates over 200 A320ceo family aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Which of these will likely go?

Delta is likely waiting on Boeing to confirm the NMA is a no-go, or else awaiting an announcement of the program before deciding what to do with its 757 and 767-400ER fleet. Both of those aircraft are some of Delta’s favorites, with the 757s being a versatile fleet that can do everything from short-haul domestic to long-haul international with lie-flat seating up front.

Delta 757
Delta has 100 757s in its fleet and has not yet decided on a replacement. Photo: Getty Images

The airline also retrofitted its Boeing 767-400ERs, and sending those planes out to, primarily, London with a refreshed interior, giving passengers a comfortable experience.

Delta 767
The new Delta One seat on a 767-400ER. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Combined, the 757s and 767-400ERs make up 121 aircraft. While the 757s could easily be replaced with the 100 Airbus A321neos on order, Delta would likely have to convert some of those or turn options into orders, say 20-30 into the A321LR or A321XLR to cover for the 757s long-haul international routes, unless, of course, Delta does not see a future for long and thin routes and decides to scrap those.

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The 737-800s are an average of 18.8 years old, and Delta has 77 of those. Save for four, the Atlanta-based airline owns all of those aircraft, so retiring those would not be too difficult for Delta to do. Whether it has an appetite to do such a thing is unclear since that would be nearly 10% of the airline’s fleet. With domestic demand coming back much quicker than international long-haul demand, this is unlikely to be a decision Delta would be keen to make.

The Boeing 737-900ERs will stay

Delta only concluded deliveries of its total of 130 Boeing 737-900ERs on order last year, making the youngest aircraft in this fleet just over a year old. At the end of June, the airline’s 737-900ER fleet was an average of only 3.8 years old.

Faa AD Boeing 737
Delta has 130 737-900ERs. Photo: Getty Images

While Delta has shown a willingness to retire fleets of younger aircraft such as the 737-700s and 777-200LRs (which are on average only around 11-12 years old), there is a fundamental difference between those fleets and the 737-900ER fleet. For one, both of those fleets only had ten aircraft active, making it small and adding additional inefficiencies, which in turn, increases the airlines’ costs.

Even if Delta cut out the 737-800s, 757s, and 767-400ERs, these planes would not hit even plausible retirement age (assuming Delta has no problem waving goodbye to these aircraft at a young age) until around 2030, which is way too far out to predict what the world will look like or the state of aviation.

Delta planes
Even if Delta retires the 737-800s, the 737-900ERs are just so new it would not make much sense to say goodbye to them. Photo: Getty Images

Essentially, without a fantastic deal on Airbus jets and a guaranteed plan for the 737-900ERs (perhaps with Airbus taking them as a trade-in and leasing them out like Boeing has done in the past with Airbus A340s), especially the 49 of those on lease, there is almost no chance Delta retires the 737-900ERs.

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Another option might be to lease the owned planes out and terminate leases, though finding a home for 81 737-900ERs at one airline might not be very easy unless Delta turns to some of its partners, like Korean Air, and lean on them to take the jets.

Do you think Delta will try and eliminate the rest of the Boeing types from its fleet? Let us know in the comments!

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