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Delta still flying all of its Airbus A220s even as the coronavirus grounds more than half its fleet

April 22, 2020
6 min read
Delta Air Lines Airbus A220-100
Delta still flying all of its Airbus A220s even as the coronavirus grounds more than half its fleet
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Delta Air Lines is still flying all of its new Airbus A220s even as it grounds more than half of its fleet in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has knocked out nearly all demand.

The Atlanta-based carrier had temporarily parked 325 of its 874 mainline aircraft at the end of March as it works towards parking some 650 planes, Delta said in a first quarter financial disclosure. While the airline was still flying every type in its fleet, it notably had not parked any of its 31 A220-100s.

The A220s are among Delta's newest jets. The aircraft, developed by Bombardier, is the first all-new commercial narrow-body jet by a western planemaker since the introduction of the Embraer E-Jet in 2004. Delta introduced the A220-100 in February 2019 and has firm orders for another 64 planes.

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She’s got that new plane smell, Delta’s first #A220 ready for delivery at Montreal Mirabel ✈️

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The only other jet that Delta has not removed any of were its 18 remaining McDonnell Douglas MD-88s. However, the "Mad Dogs," as they are commonly known, are being retired rather than parked and will be out of the fleet in July.

The fleet changes are in the works as demand for air travel in the U.S. is at historically low levels. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 92,859 people on April 21, or just 4% of the number screened a year ago. Screenings include some airline crews.

Delta and United Airlines have both reported pre-tax losses during the March quarter that only hint at the financial carnage to come. The former lost $607 million and the latter around $2.1 billion.

Pruning fleets is one cost-saving measure that airlines are using to prepare for what will likely be a significantly smaller industry post-coronavirus. American Airlines will retire its Boeing 757s and 767s, and its Embraer E190s — the E-Jet retirements were previously planned — this year, while United has said it will begin with its 757s if it is forced to retire jets.

Related: Delta CEO says industry nears ‘bottom’ of coronavirus crisis, recovery a ways off

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For Delta, the MD-88s will not be the last to go.

“Any airplane that was thought to be retried in the next five years, probably you can consider it retired this year," Delta CEO Ed Bastian told staff in a virtual town hall Wednesday viewed by TPG.

In addition to the MD-88s, the airline plans to retire its 27 remaining MD-90s by year-end, Bastian told investors during a separate call Wednesday. Delta is also looking at some of its 193 Boeing 757s and 767s, as well as some of the 118 Bombardier CRJ-200s in its feeder fleet for retirement this year.

Bastian did not comment on the status of other aircraft types in Delta's fleet. The Air Current has reported that the airline is considering retiring its 18 Boeing 777s and is in talks with the Chicago-based planemaker about a possible deal to swap its Boeing 717s for new 737 MAX jets.

Related: A smaller Delta would have to retire planes after coronavirus. What types could go?

Swapping 717s for MAX would check many boxes. A deal would eliminate one of the older, less-efficient types in Delta's fleet at a time when removing planes is of the essence. At the same time, it would help Delta line up a new generation, efficient mid-size narrowbody to replace other similarly sized aircraft — perhaps its Airbus A320s that are on average nearly 25 years old — in a few years' time when demand recovers.

Delta expects air travel demand to recover in roughly three years, Bastian said Wednesday. He emphasized that it will not be a steady return to normalcy.

"We should be prepared for a choppy, sluggish recovery even after the virus is contained," he told staff, reiterating the word "choppy" several times.

Related: Travelers are nervous about flying again after coronavirus, IATA finds

Featured image by NurPhoto via Getty Images