There’s more to Delta’s fleet plan than just this week’s 777 retirement news. The company is shifting crew bases as it adjusts its network and fleet deployments. And while no other types are immediately slated for retirement, the writing is certainly on the wall.
An internal memo to pilots from Bob Schmelzer, Director of Crew Resources, describes some of the plans and how aircraft will be used going forward, as well as where the pilots operating them are to be based.
Growing into the Airbus long haul fleet
In support of the Airbus A350’s wider role as the flagship long haul aircraft in Delta’s fleet (26 more on order!) the company will establish pilot bases in Atlanta and Los Angeles for the type in Q4 2020. The company notes, “Enhancements to the 350 now allow it to operate key long-haul markets (SYD and JNB) at a lower operating cost than the 777.” So any concerns about those routes disappearing with the retirement of the 777-200LRs should be assuaged. The corresponding 777 bases will close in Q1 2021, following the retirement of the aircraft from service.
The carrier also expects the A330, including 32 pending A330neo orders, to share that long haul load. Pilots for the A330 currently operate from bases at ATL, DTW, MSP, NYC, and SEA. In the future bases at SEA and LAX could also be considered, but that is on hold for now pending further clarity on the delivery timeline for those planes. With deferrals backing things up on the order of years, not months, this could be a long wait.
767s continue to support international operations
The company’s 767 operations are split across two pilot groups. For the carrier’s 21 767-400s the news appears to be solid. Schmelzer suggests the “aircraft’s smaller size (compared to the larger A330) will allow us to scale trans-Atlantic markets as business traffic returns.” These aircraft will primarily operate from ATL and NYC, just as before, with no shift in pilot bases.
The smaller 767-300/ER aircraft will see a reduction in international flying, particularly on the trans-Pacific routes. Bases in DTW, MSP and SLC will close by Q2 2021 while the LAX and SEA operations will shrink. Bases in ATL and NYC will maintain their current size.
The “7ER” fleet designation within Delta’s operations also includes the carrier’s 757s and reading between the lines suggests those aircraft may not last long in the Delta fleet. The memo states that growth in west coast flying will return through A321neo fleet growth, for example, rather than pushing 757s or 767s back into service.
The company will, in the short-term, “maintain flexibility” within this fleet through “a small surplus pool of pilots.” If demand returns more quickly than currently expected for either single-aisle or twin-aisle aircraft the fleet “can be reactivated quickly” to meet that need. But, for now, expect that many (if not most) of these aircraft are out of service for the foreseeable future.
It is hard to still see Delta’s fleet moves as keen for a “NMA” aircraft from Boeing to replace the 757s and 767s, though everything depends on timing. Getting a truly new aircraft type developed, certified and delivered quickly enough to pick up the early edge of the retirements is impossible. But at the very far end, assuming the 767 service life stretches, something might be possible. But still unlikely.
Within the single-aisle operations the closure of the CVG station (currently only 737s based there) is most notable. But Delta will also reduce the size of its NYC 737 base while increasing position in ATL and SEA. Particularly at Seattle this growth comes against news that the A320 operation is still not large enough to demand a pilot base. As the A321neo deliveries resume that will likely change, but not yet.
The previously announced MD88/MD90 retirements slated for 2 June 2020 necessitate the closure of that base in ATL. The 717s remain in service for now, but half of that fleet will retire in the next two years. This flying will consolidate to the ATL base, with the MSP 717 base closing in Q3 2020 and the NYC base closing in Q2 2021.
MSP will see an increase in 737 and A320 flying to offset the 717 loss while the NYC operations will replace the type with A220s and A320s. The A220 operations will remain centered at NYC and SLC with no timeline for expansion.