Delta Air Lines maintains plans to initially use its Airbus A220s on longer routes served by large regional aircraft, putting the brakes on possible new focus cities with the aircraft.
"Where we're purposely putting [the A220s] is to improve our product on our longest haul [Embraer] 175 or [Bombardier] CRJ900s, into thinner business markets," says Joe Esposito, senior vice-president of network planning at the Atlanta-based carrier, at the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Denver today.
For example, the 110-seat A220-100 could replace 76-seat Embraer 175s on flights between New York and both Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston Intercontinental where Delta competes directly with mainline aircraft at American Airlines and United Airlines, he says.
Esposito held the company line in his comments on where the airline could use the A220, avoiding comments on whether the aircraft could be used to open new focus cities.
"In the short-term, we're probably going to use it to upgrade some of our longer haul Delta Connection flights," he says, adding that when they have a critical mass of A220s in the fleet they could look at new routes.
Speculation has focused on whether Delta could use the A220 to open a new focus city in Austin. The carrier has grown in the city, increasing capacity by double-digits this year and last, and is investing in a new Sky Club that will open in 2019.
"We know that Delta is interested in expanding their service at the airport," Kevin Schorr, a vice-president at Campbell-Hill Aviation that advises Austin-Bergstrom International airport on air service development, told FlightGlobal in July.
Austin will open nine new gates in early 2019, presenting Delta with the opportunity to secure additional space to grow in the coming years. The gates have yet to be allocated to airlines.
Delta does see opportunity to continue to expand its focus cities, which include Boston, Cincinnati and Raleigh/Durham, says Esposito.
"We look for opportunities in markets that are underserved where we can offer a great product," he says on the airline's strategy in these markets.
Delta's non-hub growth is not just limited to focus cities. It added flights between San Jose, California, and Las Vegas in 2016, neither of which are a focus city, because it saw an opportunity to be more relevant to passengers in Silicon Valley by serving the airport's largest market, says Esposito.
The airline is scheduled to grow capacity by 3.6% this year, though executives say that will fall to around 3%, FlightGlobal schedule data shows. At the same time, its three focus cities will grow at roughly five-times the system rate, with capacity scheduled to be up 15.4% year-over-year.
Delta will take delivery of the first of 75 A220-100s, previously the Bombardier CS100, later this year with plans to debut them on scheduled flights in the first quarter of 2019.