Fleet commonality: Take that, conventional wisdom

We’ve been puzzled for a few days now. Conventional wisdom – and it’s pretty good conventional wisdom – holds that one of the benefits of a merger is that it reduces capacity and that it reduces complexity. When America West took over US Airways back in 2005, for instance, it cut out enough 20071025-20.jpg capacity that it saved almost 10% of the system; it also combined fleets and IT systems, although this was not without bumps and took a few years. (We know that ‘bump’ is a euphemism; we were one of the many caught during the March 2007 “transition” from one IT system to another.)
So, when Delta and Northwest come out and say that they won’t abandon any hubs or cut many routes and that they’re not looking to reduce capacity significantly, you wonder. The whole purpose, they say, is to bulk up on revenues rather than trim on overhead. Fair enough. But then they come to the fleet and they say that no, they won’t be getting rid of any of their fleet, even though it has no single aircraft type in common other than the Good Ole 757, you sort of have to wonder.
Delta has 451 jets, all Boeing, while nearly half of Northwest’s 350 jets were made by Airbus, and when you factor out the DC9s, you 050914_deltanw_hmed_3p.hmedium.jpg realize that Northwest is essentially an Airbus airline.
This is not, however, repeat, not, a disadvantage, to hear the Delta guys tell it. “In a network of this size, you really do need to be able to optimize the airplane to the route,” said Richard Anderson, Delta’s chief executive. Anderson says it allows the exact right sized aircraft to be sued at each airport. Delta, he says, has a gap the 76-125 seat range, while Northwest has plenty in that range. So a Northwest A319 would be ideal for a Cincinnati route, while a Northwest Boeing 747-400 could fill in on an Asian route from New York JFK or Atlanta Hartsfield.
And Steenland said that the different fleets would bring cost savings because the combined carrier won’t have to refit its cockpits, seats and galleys to make them uniform throughout the fleet. And in any case, it may give the two bargaining power when placing orders with Boeing or Airbus. So there, take that, conventional wisdom.

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