Delta Air Lines will receive its first of fifteen Airbus A350-900 aircrafts in July 2017. The first aircraft went through its maiden test flight at Airbus assembly center located in Toulouse, France on May 24, 2017. We go behind the scenes on Delta Air Lines’ journey with this aircraft thus far and what lies ahead as the airline moves forward.
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines has one the older aircraft fleets in the world at ~17 years. As of May 26, 2017, its fleet consists of 832 Airbus, Boeing, and McDonnell Douglas aircrafts. Boeing makes up most of the mix with 470 aircrafts (~57%) while both Airbus and McDonnell have 181 aircrafts each (~22%). Aircraft mix comprises of 682 (~82%) narrow-body (single aisle) aircrafts versus 150 (~18%) wide-body (twin aisles) aircrafts. Narrow-body aircrafts are used mainly for domestic US, intra-Asia and short-distance trans-atlantic (TATL) flight duties. Wide-body aircrafts are deployed for mostly on transcontinental US, Asian, European and South American operations with some light repositioning flights between hubs.
The Airbus A350 program was first developed as a stretched and improved version of the A330-300 variant (Insight). Additional rounds of airline consultation and reviewing Boeing’s 787 plans resulted in a wider design dubbed A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body).
The first copy was delivered to Qatar Airways back in 2014 (Insight). Delta Air Lines reviewed its long haul fleet plans around 2012-14 and decided to forego the Boeing 777/787 mix. The airline instead ordered 25 A350-900s (15 confirmed, 10 options) along with 25 new A330-300neo in November 2014. Leading up to its first delivery in mid-summer 2017, the Airbus A350-900 will continue flight testing before receiving a fresh paint job in Delta Air Lines’ “Onward and Upward” livery.
The A350-900 is marketed as Delta Air Lines’ new long haul service flagship and will be the first in the world to have the entire business class cabin featuring seats with full height sliding doors often seen in international first class cabins. Dubbed the Delta One Suite®, each seat can be converted into a lie-flat bed, has direct aisle access and will have an 18″ high definition in-flight entertainment system (the biggest screen size for a US carrier) with an updated version of Delta Studio® installed. The aircraft will also be used to introduce Delta Air Line’s first entry into the premium economy market with Delta Premium Select®.
In all, there will be a total of 306 seats on board with 32 (~10.5%) in the Delta One cabin, 48 (~15.7%) in Delta Premium Select and 226 (~73.8%) in the Main Cabin. Customers will have access to high-speed 2Ku Wi-Fi internet access on board with peak speeds up to 70 Mbit/s as well as AC power and USB ports.
New Technology To Stay Current
Delta Air Lines will be the first North American carrier to operate the Airbus A350-900 aircraft in October 2018. The variant will be used to replace the aging Boeing 747-400s and 763-300ERs and be placed first on its flights from USA to Asia. The aircraft will have a lower operating unit cost (up 20% lower per passenger), can fly further than most of its long haul fleet (except the Boeing 777-200LR) and has the highest capacity outside of the retiring Boeing 747-400s (configured up to 376 seats currently). This is a powerful combination to compete against its full service rivals (American Airlines, Emirates) and new low cost entrants (WOW Air, Norwegian). Additionally, Delta Air Lines would be able to fly non-stop to more destinations from the US and de-hub the Tokyo operations inherited with the Northwest Airlines merger (Insight).
North American Competitor Landscape
American Airlines, United Airlines and Air Canada are the biggest North American long haul competitors to Delta Air Lines. When it comes to the Airbus A350, American Airlines inherited an order of 22 Airbus A350s from the US Airways merger and decided to defer the delivery date from late 2018 to sometime in 2020. As the airline already operates a mix of Boeing 787-8 and -9 variants, it might decide to cancel the order completely or replace it with more Airbus A320 family aircrafts.
Fellow competitor United Airlines is in the midst to future fleet planning and might switch its order to the A320 family aircrafts instead of confirming its A350-1000 plans to replace their older Boeing 757/767 aircrafts. Air Canada is fully committed to using the Boeing’s 787 series for its long haul operations and have no plans to order any Airbus A350s.