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In a blow to American aviation manufacturer Boeing, Delta announced yesterday that from 2017 to 2019, the airline will replace its older Boeing 747-400s and 767-300ERs with 25 long-haul A350-900s and 25 medium-haul A330-900neos from European-owned Airbus, which feature Rolls Royce engines, and are expected to save 20% per seat in operating costs.
The retail cost of these 50 new planes is roughly $14.3 billion, and though Delta will receive an industry discount on the purchase, this amount remains a tough pill for Boeing to swallow in light of its ongoing rivalry with Airbus and long-term relationship with the Atlanta-based carrier.
This purchase is only the latest example of Delta breaking its prior loyalty to Boeing, whose aircraft comprise the bulk of the airline’s fleet of 700 planes. In 2013, five years after Delta inherited a number of Airbus models in their merger with Northwest, it ordered 40 jets from Airbus, both A321s and A330s.
Beginning in the second quarter of 2017, Delta will replace its Boeing 747-400 aircraft with 25 Airbus A350-900s, using them on long-haul routes between the U.S. and Asia. The two-cabin, 315-seat jets are the largest of Airbus’s three new fuel-efficient XWB aircraft, with a cross-section of 220 inches from armrest to armrest that allows for nine-abreast economy seating with a width of 18 inches per seat. In mid-December, Airbus plans to deliver its very first A350, which will go to Qatar Airways.
Starting in early 2019, Delta will take delivery of 25 Airbus A330-900neo widebody jets, the European manufacturer’s eventual answer to Boeing’s Dreamliner. Expected in the fourth quarter of 2017, the “neo” (short for new-engine options) model will be 14% more fuel efficient than the current Airbus A330s, which have been in use since 1994. Delta will eventually deploy the updated 310-seat jets in medium-haul, trans-Atlantic markets, and on select routes between the West Coast and Asia.
Meanwhile, in advance of its impending 2015 SkyMiles devaluations, Delta continues to invest in its onboard product, including the installation of high-speed, in-flight Wi-Fi on its long-haul 747-400s, and the recent introduction of the Delta Studio wireless entertainment system on many domestic aircraft. The airline now provides this seat-back IFE entirely free of charge to premium, domestic passengers (and free on a limited basis to those in economy), and will continue to install the system on its present fleet through 2018.
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