When Delta Air Lines announced an order for 40 Airbus jets, it did not jump for the latest A320neo family or the next generation A350 widebody, opting instead for the existing A321 with sharklets and an enhanced version of the venerable A330-300.
Richard Anderson, chief executive of the Atlanta-based carrier, called the order an “opportunistic” transaction for “proven-technology” aircraft – long a hallmark of the airline.
The 190-seat A321s are likely to join the Boeing 737-900ER (check out this picture of N801DZ on a test flight) as a replacement of its 171- to 184-seat domestic Boeing 757-200s, flying high-density short- and medium-haul routes such as Atlanta-Jacksonville or Atlanta-Richmond.
“The A321 will operate on certain markets where there’s high volume and between key cities, but not where it’s going to have to stretch its legs,” says Shakeel Adam, managing partner of aviation consultancy Aviado Partners.
Delta has done similar deals for other proven technology aircraft. It opted for used Boeing 717-200s and new Bombardier CRJ900s to replace the majority of its 50-seat regional jet fleet, and buying used McDonnell Douglas MD-88s and MD-90s instead of ordering new aircraft for its mainline fleet.
On the A330s, Adam says that they look more like supplemental aircraft that will strengthen Delta’s operational capabilities and boost hub-to-hub frequencies on routes across both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
The 293-seat A330-300 does not provide a convenient alternative to the older widebody types in Delta’s fleet, including the 376-seat Boeing 747-400 or the 208- to 261-seat Boeing 767-300ER, unless the carrier opts to upgauge or downgauge the fleet.
But one thing is increasingly clear – it does not look like Delta will have any of the next generation of aircraft until its first Boeing 787-8, an order it inherited from Northwest Airlines when the carriers merged in 2008, arrives in 2020.