Yesterday’s 787 decision by Delta was not unexpected.  The original 787 order was from Northwest Airlines. Once Northwest merged with Delta, it was Delta’s fleet plan that took precedence.

As of 3Q16 Delta’s fleet looked like this.  Boeing represented 58% of the fleet, so Delta remains a major Boeing customer.

But taking a deeper look at Delta’s fleet we can see the impact of the Northwest merger.  Northwest was not an airline with a modern fleet. It was famous for keeping 30+ year old DC-9s in service.  In the single aisle category one can see the merger immediately aged Delta’s fleet.  As the older aircraft have been retired and newer Boeing models acquired, the fleet average age has started to fall even as the fleet has seen strong growth.

For the twin aisle fleet we see that Delta also took an average age hit with the Northwest merger.  But because Delta has taken a liking to the ex-Northwest A330s, the fleet size declined while it aged significantly.  Delta reluctantly, it seems, retires older twin aisle aircraft.  Absent Delta TechOps’ yeoman efforts, we might expect a lot more technical delays from this fleet.

Let’s breakdown the twin aisle fleet.  Here we see Delta has taken to following the Northwest decision in favor of the A330.  Delta is taken more of these aircraft and is a launch customer for the A330neo.  It has also ordered the A350.  As the data suggests, its been nearly a decade since Delta last bought a twin aisle Boeing.

It is therefore not so surprising that Delta opted out of the 787 order.  The 787-8 does not, apparently, fit the Delta route structure.  Yet the 787-8 offers unique capabilities – nothing Delta has in service now would be a better long thin route aircraft.  Moreover, with the strong 767 commitment, a 787 would seem like a natural replacement.  Not even converting the 787-8 to the more capable -9 was attractive for Delta.

By ordering more A330s and A350s, it appears Delta sees the Airbus aircraft as better range/payload options.  If we view Delta’s twin aisle fleet by average seating, the Airbus fleet is at 282 and the Boeing fleet is at 276.  The aircraft are so close as to suggest a Delta preference or standard – about 280 seats.   The 787-8 and 787-9 might be too small for this requirement.  The A330-900 slots right in at 287 and the A350-900 does too at 315, offering more capacity.  While the 787-10 and A350-900 are similar in capacity, Airbus might have offered a better deal.

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Addison Schonland
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Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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