Delta to retire its Boeing 777s even earlier than expected
Demand for air travel may be picking up faster than anticipated, but this rebound isn't enough for airlines to backtrack on aircraft retirements announced amid the pandemic. So much so that Delta Air Lines is accelerating the retirement of some of its planes.
The Atlanta-based carrier announced in mid-May that it would retire its relatively young fleet of 18 777-200s by year-end, citing concerns over a long and slow recovery in international travel after the crisis. While the airline still hasn't announce a specific date, the retirement will come sooner that expected.
The airline's CEO, Ed Bastian, dropped the news in the annual shareholders meeting on June 18 that its final 777 flight will take place before the end of this fall. This decision makes sense given that the winter is already one of the toughest times for airlines demand-wise.
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Delta currently has 18 777s — a mix of 777-200ER and 777-200LRs — in its fleet with an average age of 15.2 years. The jets were used for some of the airline's longest and most premium routes as they offered the longest range, but are far less efficient than the next generation wide-bodies like the Airbus A350-900s and have higher maintenance costs.
The airline just finished a $100 million project to retrofit its 777s in February. This included installing the airline's flagship Delta One business class suites and Premium Select premium economy seats. Delta was also the only U.S. airline to offer a spacious 3-3-3 economy layout on this type of plane — American Airlines and United Airlines both configure economy class on their 777s in a 3-4-3 seating layout.
Delta is not the only carrier retiring older jets early amid the pandemic. For instance, American Airlines is bidding farewell to six plane types — A330s, Boeing 757s and 767s, Bombardier CRJ200s and Embraer E190s. Delta is also accelerating the retirement of all of its McDonnell Douglas MD-88s and MD-90s and potentially others. "We will continue to look at other fleet types, as well as planes within subfleets, within our larger fleet family for retirement decisions. There will probably be a few more made before the end of this year," Bastian explained.
Related: When it’s time to retire that airplane, how do airlines decide what to let go?