Delta Air Lines will add ten more A330-900neo aircraft to its fleet. The move, rumored since earlier this week, was first disclosed by Airbus to an unnamed buyer. Delta now claims those new frames. The move increases Delta’s outstanding A330neo backlog to 35 aircraft. It also brings about significant change to the on board passenger experience.
“Expanding our A330 order book not only ensures that Delta’s near-to-medium-term widebody needs are taken care of, but also drives our strategic, measured international growth,” said Gil West, Delta’s Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “The next-generation engine technology from Rolls-Royce which powers the A330neo provides compelling operating economics, superior fuel performance and the range and coverage for our transoceanic needs going forward.”
The add-on A330neo order also brings two new cabin offerings into Delta’s twin-aisle fleet.
Major IFE Adjustment
The new Delta A330neo order appears to be a significant win for Gogo and loss for Panasonic Avionics on the inflight entertainment front. The new planes will be “the first Delta widebody aircraft featuring its new wireless in-flight entertainment system in every seat,” according to the carrier. This likely refers to the Gogo Vision Touch product that Delta and Gogo launched in late 2017. The first installation occurred on the carrier’s A220 fleet. The system uses commercial tablets mounted in the seatback to deliver entertainment to passengers. The content is streamed via wifi rather than delivered over a wired connection to the seat. This reduces wiring cost and weight, though power is still needed at the seats.
Gogo Vision Touch is not the first offering to attempt use of commercial screens for IFE service but it is the first to take flight. Other vendors historically faced insurmountable challenges with respect to crash testing on the embedded hardware, specifically the 16G HIC test requirement. Gogo and Delta appear to have solved this challenge, with the first A220 carrying the kit delivered to the airline and four more deliveries expected in 2018. Delta will put the Gogo Vision Touch hardware into commercial service on 31 January when the first three A220s begin their passenger flights.
Questions about the ability to support that many devices streaming concurrently also remain. The RF interference challenges inside an aircraft fuselage are significant, especially with hundreds of devices sharing limited spectrum. This is not impossible to overcome but definitely a technical challenge.
The IFE change is a notable loss for Panasonic Avionics (PAC). PAC provided its X Series entertainment system for all of Delta’s other new aircraft deliveries. Its NEXT series hardware or even the current generation eX3 offering would have been in the running for this deal. Losing that cannot be seen as good news for the company. Indeed, PAC’s few recent deal wins appear to be relatively small compared to the larger opportunities going elsewhere.
More seats, more choices
Delta indicated that the new A330-900neo layout will include four different classes of service on board – Delta One suites, Delta Premium Select, Delta Comfort+ and Main Cabin – a first for the carrier. The biggest challenge for passengers and sales channels will be differentiating between the Premium Select and Comfort+ cabins.
Fortunately, Delta has improved the display difference for the two products on its own site. It also appears to no longer be selling Comfort+ as a premium economy offering via third party channels on long-haul international services. This is a welcome change for passengers, allowing for smarter choices around which product is being purchased and putting Premium Select truly in the competition with other premium economy offerings.
When will then be now??
Perhaps the biggest question remaining is just when these A330neo frames will be delivered. Delta’s fleet plan adjusted late in 2017 to push the first four deliveries to 2020. Other reports still have the aircraft coming in 2019. In either case, Delta must wait for Airbus to commence deliveries and that timing remains unclear. Launch customer TAP previously expected delivery of its first aircraft earlier this week. That event was scrubbed just as quietly as it was being planned with no firm date rescheduled. Neither Airbus nor TAP have been forthcoming with reasons for the delay in delivery. Brazilian carrier Azul also holds early delivery slots for A330neos and is unclear about when they will be delivered.
The deal also sees Delta defer ten A350 orders to the middle of the next decade and add conversion rights for those frames to A330neos as well. Delta will fly 15 A350s by 2020, up from 11 in the fleet today.