Tuesday morning, Delta Air Lines announced that it had augmented its order for Airbus A321neo aircraft by 30 jets. The airline is exercising options to pursue fleet renewal and replacement strategies and augment its hub network. The large A321neo aircraft order book will be a huge benefit to the carrier over the coming years.
Delta’s large Airbus A321neo order
Delta Air Lines exercised options for 30 more Airbus A321neo aircraft to its existing A321neo order. This will bring the airline to 155 firm commitments for the A321neo, with options for 70 more aircraft.
These 155 aircraft are in addition to the existing A321ceo fleet. The carrier has 121 A321ceos in its fleet currently and has six remaining A321ceos on order. The first of the Airbus A321neos is due to Delta in the first half of 2022.
The Airbus A321neos will seat 194 passengers. This includes 20 in first class, which will feature a brand new seat for Delta, 42 in Comfort+ (extra-legroom economy), and 132 standard economy seats. All of the aircraft will come with the airline’s newest inflight entertainment system created in-house that can be found on aircraft like the Airbus A220 or Boeing 767-400ERs.
Replacing older narrowbodies
Alongside the announcement of the order, Delta stated that the aircraft order would, in part, replace older narrowbody aircraft that are less fuel-efficient and ready for retirement.
This primarily points to a couple of different fleets. The first is the Boeing 757-200 fleet, of which Delta operates 100 standard passenger aircraft. These planes are an average of roughly 24 years old. The next set of aircraft that could be up for retirement are the 55 Airbus A320s, which are an average of over 25 years old.
With the Airbus A320s, the retirement of those aircraft is mainly a question about gauge, costs, and efficiencies. The planes are getting old, only seat 156 passengers, and Delta has been aiming to fly more larger-gauge narrowbody aircraft from its hubs to support its large connecting network.
As for the Boeing 757s, these are one of the backbones of Delta’s narrowbody domestic fleet, but they are similarly getting old and are inefficient. The A321neos are similar higher-gauge aircraft that can easily replace these aircraft.
Delta has made plenty of advancements over the year by increasing the capacity of its hubs by flying larger higher-gauge aircraft. The airline also recently picked up 29 used Boeing 737-900ER aircraft, which seat 180 passengers. These higher gauge aircraft offer lower unit costs while allowing for an incremental increase in capacity to unlock its hubs.
Will Delta order long-range A321neos?
Airbus has two long-range products from the Airbus A321neo family: the A321LR and the A321XLR. While both aircraft have received much attention from airlines, including sizable orders from both United and American for the latter, all eyes were on Delta over whether it would be adding those aircraft to replace its Boeing 757s.
According to data from ch-aviation.com, the airline has a fleet of 17 Boeing 757-200s that are equipped with lie-flat seating and have been pointed on long-haul international missions. This is a relatively small fleet and currently are pointed toward more domestic missions.
This raises the question of whether or not Delta actually needs the longer-range A321neos. There is a case for the aircraft, but there is also the case against adding long-range narrowbody aircraft and choosing to fly smaller widebodies. Though, with the Boeing 767-300ERs also slated for retirement, Delta may be in a crunch for widebodies in the 200-230 seat range that works for smaller but still significant markets.
Delta still has 70 options for Airbus A321neo aircraft that Airbus may be willing to covert to orders for longer-range A321neos, but it is telling that the airline is waiting out on order. With Boeing reportedly moving forward with a rival to the A321neo family of jets in the long-range market, Delta could be waiting to see what the American manufacturer brings to the table.
There are two ways to read this order. One could be that the carrier does not see a pressing need for a long-range Boeing 757 replacement and is willing to wait for the best offer and model. The other could be that Delta has decided it does not want to fly long-range narrowbody aircraft and favors widebody aircraft in which it is making investments.
What do you make of Delta’s A321neo order? Let us know in the comments!