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Delta bets on global growth with deal for LATAM Airbus A350s

Sept. 27, 2019
4 min read
Delta Airbus A350 at ATL
Delta bets on global growth with deal for LATAM Airbus A350s
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Delta Air Lines is betting on a need for more large wide-body jets with a deal to buy 14 Airbus A350s from new strategic partner LATAM Airlines.

The Atlanta-based carrier will buy four A350-900s already delivered to LATAM and assume 10 of the airline's delivery positions for the aircraft. The aircraft move is part of a more than $2 billion pact with the South American aviation giant announced Thursday.

“We certainly have long-term needs for wide-body aircraft,” said Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, during an analyst call on the LATAM deal Friday.

Related: Delta to take 20% stake in LATAM, which will leave Oneworld Alliance

The wide-body deal comes as Delta continues to talk about needing additional aircraft. Bastian acknowledged this in his remarks, saying the airline has looked at either more A350s or ordering additional Boeing aircraft.

“This gives us an opportunity to expand our A350 fleet, which we have a relatively sub-scale number of at 15 today," he said. Delta previously planned to operate 25 A350s by 2020, but deferred 10 deliveries in 2017.

Now, Delta has commitments for 26 A350s to complement the 13 it already operates, based on the LATAM deal and its fleet plan at the end of June. The airline will add four of the Airbus wide-bodies next year — two from its order book and two from LATAM — another 12 via the LATAM deal from 2021 through 2025, and the 10 remaining from its order book beginning in 2025.

Related: Delta One Suites on the A350 From Detroit to Seoul

Photo by Zach Honig/TPG
Delta One suites on the A350. (Photo by Zach Honig/TPG)

The A350s will join the Airbus A330-900s, also known as A330neo, that Delta has on order. It had two A330neos at the end of June, and firm orders for another 33 aircraft.

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The carrier introduced the A350-900 in October 2017 as a replacement for aging Boeing 747s. The aircraft was the first outfitted with Delta One suites and Delta Premium Select cabin. Delta's A350s seat 32 in its Delta One suites, 48 in premium economy and 226 in economy.

Delta almost exclusively flies its A350s across the Pacific with Amsterdam (AMS) being the sole exception in October, Diio by Cirium schedule data shows. The commitment for more aircraft suggests this network could expand to new areas — perhaps even South America with the new LATAM tie-up — as more aircraft enter the fleet.

Where Delta (red) and LATAM (blue) fly their A350s in October 2019. (Map by Diio by Cirium)
Where Delta (red) and LATAM (blue) fly their A350s in October 2019. (Map by Diio by Cirium)

LATAM will continue to fly the A350. Speaking during the airline’s own analyst call Friday, CFO Ramiro Alfonsin said LATAM's updated fleet plan includes nine A350-900s for its Brazilian operating subsidiary LATAM Brasil. Two of these aircraft are leased to Qatar Airways but will soon be returned.

Related: LATAM will remain unaligned after Delta tie-up, Oneworld exit

The South American airline outfits its A350s with 30 lie-flat business class seats, 18 extra-legroom economy seats and 300 economy seats.

The decision to sell the A350s to Delta comes as LATAM has repeatedly cut expenses. The carrier has pruned hundreds of millions of dollars from its fleet commitments largely by renegotiating agreements and deferring aircraft deliveries over the past several years.

LATAM continues to move forward with the cabin retrofit program that it launched in March, said Alfonsin.

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Featured image by A Delta Airbus A350 at Atlanta (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)