Chalk up another airline fleet type retired. Delta Air Lines will remove its 777s from service by the end of 2020, citing lower operating efficiencies compared to the carrier’s A330 and A350 aircraft.
We’re making strategic, cost-effective changes to our fleet to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while also ensuring Delta is well-positioned for the recovery on the backside of the crisis. The 777 has been a reliable part of Delta’s success since it joined the fleet in 1999 and because of its unique operating characteristics, opened new non-stop, ultra-long-haul markets that only it could fly at that time.– Gil West, Delta’s Chief Operating Officer
The carrier operates only 18 of the 777s, split across the -200ER and –200LR types. The LRrs in particular opened unique markets for Delta, including the Atlanta-Johannesburg route. Whether that flight returns on the A350 (likely payload restricted due to JNB’s elevation) or not remains to be seen. But it is also a small fleet for the carrier, and operating niche fleets carries outsized costs.
In this era of scrambling to save every penny possible, however, airlines cannot treat anything as sacred. In a letter to employees CEO Ed Bastian notes, “Parking this fleet will provide significant cost savings over the next several years. Delta is currently burning about $50 million every day, and steps like this help us to stem the bleeding, in an effort to safeguard Delta jobs and our future.”
And so, for Delta, the 777s must go.
Look for Delta to market its LR frames to the secondary market where they can be converted to freighter aircraft. The planes are relatively young and low-cycle count and likely could operate successfully for a couple decades to come carrying cargo. A similar conversion program already exists for the -300ER models; adapting it to the -200LR should be reasonably straightforward.
An Interior Investment
Delta only just recently completed the retrofit of the 777 fleet, adding its new Delta One business class seats with sliding doors and the Delta Premium Select premium economy cabins. But Delta also kept its economy class cabin at 9-abreast rather than the 3-4-3 layout that nearly every other airline operating the 777s either already operates or is converting to. That shift brought better unit economics (i.e. higher revenue potential for minimal cash expense) but came with a very real passenger experience cost.
At the time the carrier spoke openly of the commitment to comfort. In quieter tones behind the scenes there was discussion of the limited value that increased revenue could deliver, particularly against the longest routes were range might become a problem. It was a marketing decision in many ways, but also driven by the economics. And now those same economics dictate that the operating costs are too high.
This is not to say that operating the more comfortable configuration secured the fate of these planes, but it certainly did not help with the profitability calculations in the end. Far more likely to have skewed the numbers is timing on heavy maintenance checks given the aircraft age.
An Airbus Long Haul Future
Delta currently operates a fleet of 60 Airbus A330 and A350 aircraft. This is just shy of the 77-large 767 fleet that also flies international routes, but the carrier’s future is focused entirely on the Airbus options. Including recently secured A530s related to its LATAM joint venture deal, Delta now holds purchase commitments for 26 additional A350s and 32 A330-900neo aircraft. While the delivery timelines will certainly adjust, these are the planes Delta expects will form the backbone of its intercontinental fleet going forward as demand resumes.
The carrier also holds a 100-frame commitment for the A321neo, with an additional 100 options. With the LR and XLR variants in play these planes can replace a number of the 757 and 767 transatlantic operations for Delta with compelling cost factors.
Massive crew challenges
Not directly tied to the 777 retirement, but associated with the general capacity cuts coming, Delta anticipates it will be overstaffed by as many as 7,000 pilots headed in to the Fall season. This includes fully closing the pilot base at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (CVG). The CVG station was de-hubbed post-merger but remained a base.
This news is similar to – but more dire than – that from United Airlines as it reported more than 4,000 pilots would likely be displaced and in excess of the company’s needs as crew bases close and realign to the new flying goals.
The 777 retirement follows on Delta’s previously announced plans to retire its MD-88 and MD-90 aircraft in June of this year.
More on COVID-19 and the airlines affected
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- Massive cuts, uncertain recovery timelines for aviation in the face of COVID-19
- Qantas cuts international 25% through September facing coronavirus-induced demand drop
- Spirit Airlines plans 5% growth reduction for April as COVID-19 hurts demand
- American Airlines slashes schedule, increases flexibility for customer rebookings
- US to block some European visitors
- Two key takeaways from American’s latest schedule cuts
- Regulators suspend slot rules, opening door to deeper airline cuts
- Beyond route cuts, airlines initiate extended suspension of operations
- Gogo looks to ride out coronavirus-related dip in demand
- Trans States Airlines: The first US airline victim of COVID-19
- JetBlue removes 40% of capacity, delays new deliveries as demand drops
- Airlines get a break on coronavirus EC261 comp, looking for more
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- Qatar Airways plans 75% capacity cut in response to COVID-19
- Emirates, Turkish Airlines slash route networks, ground aircraft
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- Converting to cargo: Putting passenger planes to use in the COVID-19 era
- IATA anticipates recession, slower recovery, as COVID-19 impact drag on
- US carriers cut frequencies, not destinations as they seek federal funding
- JetBlue plans 70%+ cut in April operations
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- Spirit Airlines reportedly cutting 90% of flights
- US airlines cut deep, but not deep enough
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- Who wants what? How the US airlines are responding with CARES Act funding on the line
- Delta, United extend elite status by a year, adjust other benefits
- DOT adjusts, finalizes airline route requirements for CARES Act funding.
- Lufthansa announces major, permanent fleet restructuring
- Air Canada, Alaska Airlines extend elite status
- Deeper cuts, reprotect options coming for JetBlue
- Air Canada replaces seats with cargo in 777-300ER cabin
- American Airlines extends status, eases qualification
- A new take on amenity kits in the COVID-19 era
- COVID crushing inflight connectivity: Part 1
- Stuck in the past, DOT botches its CARES Act implementation
- DOT grants exemptions to Delta, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines under CARES Act obligations
- Introducing yin-yang seating for economy class
- Inflight social distancing will kill short-haul LCC travel: IATA
- Gogo furloughs 60% of workforce, applies for CARES Act support
- COVID crushing inflight connectivity: Part 2
- De Havilland, Air Canada Cargo partner on Dash 8-400 cargo conversion
- JetBlue plans new route network for CARES Act compliance
- Spirit Airlines running triangle routes to meet CARES Act requirements
- Sun Country wins big as United, Frontier lose in latest CARES Act ruling
- Frontier Airlines pushes new route plan for CARES Act compliance
- Argentina plans to restart flights in September 2020
- Spirit Airlines asks DOT again to drop destinations
- Delta Flight Products, TechOps develop isolation pod for COVID-19 military transport
- JetBlue aims to drop 16 "major hub" destinations from its network
- Allegiant scores leniency from DOT in CARES Act obligations
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- American, Delta confirm accelerated fleet retirements
- Airbus aims to ease "COVID Combi" temporary freighter conversions
- The Weekly Wrap: FlightPlan, personal screening and more!
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- JetBlue, Spirit score exemptions to drop service at major US airports
- IATA recommends against blocked middle seats, favors "layered" protections
- United plans to resume (cargo for now) Hong Kong-Singapore service
- JetBlue suspends six cities through June
- Project Wingman USA Opens Lounges for Frontline Healthcare Heroes at Two Major New York City Hospitals
- Cape Air’s ugly April stats (and some possible good news for May)
- Fighting for the middle: A pandemic seating shift
- Avianca declares bankruptcy, seeks protection in restructuring
- United raises ire in cutting hours for salaried employees
- DOT further relaxes airline CARES Act obligations
- Allegiant sees quick recovery on the horizon
- Delta drops 777 fleet as coronavirus cuts continue
- JetBlue offers free TrueBlue Mosaic status, plus a year extension
- United faces lawsuit over M&A employees pay cut
- Optimism on the horizon: The Weekly Wrap 15 May 2020
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- JetBlue plans return of international markets in June
- Frontier, Mobile bicker over flights to Orlando
- US retaliates against China, blocking all flights
- China blinks, US to back down on flight ban
- ATPCO moves to ease ticketing changes for airlines worldwide
- Inflight magazines are not dead yet: The Weekly Wrap–5 June 2020
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- Norwegian set to restart European services from 1 July
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- LATAM Argentina, LEVEL Europe face bankruptcy
- Air Canada launches half-priced Aeroplan rewards in North America
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- Curing Catering Concerns: The Weekly Wrap–19 June 2020
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- Peek inside the largest converted cargo aircraft flying today
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