Delta Air Lines begins the final chapter in the drawdown of its international Boeing 747-400 fleet with the introduction of the Airbus A350-900 today.

The new Airbus aircraft enters service operating flight DL275 from Detroit to Tokyo Narita today. A 747 operated the flight yesterday.

"The A350 is a significant step forward for us into the international competitiveness of our product and service," said Ed Bastian, chief executive of Delta, earlier in October.

The A350 has Delta's latest premium product, its business class suites, and new premium economy cabin in a 306-seat configuration - 70 seats fewer than on the 747.

Airline executives have also touted the A350's efficiency and range gains over the 747 that will "meaningfully enhance", as Delta president Glen Hauenstein put it this month, the profitability of its Pacific segment going forward.

With the introduction of the new jet, the 747 is only scheduled to fly between Detroit and Seoul Incheon until the A350 replaces it on the route in December.

Delta's final scheduled international 747 flight is DL158 from Seoul to Detroit on 17 December, FlightGlobal schedules show.

The carrier follows United Airlines, which flew its last scheduled international 747 flight yesterday on 29 October, in removing the jumbo from its fleet.

Delta 747

Delta Flight Museum

Delta has operated the 747-400 since it merged with Northwest Airlines in 2009. The carrier began drawing down the 16-strong 747 fleet it acquired from Northwest in 2013, ending last year with just seven in service aircraft, Flight Fleets Analyzer shows.

"Following its merger with Northwest, Delta really adopted the 747 as its flagship and featured the airplane prominently," says Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and founder of the Atmosphere Research Group. "It's been an important plane for Delta and there may be a great emotional tie with the 747."

While he notes that the 747 was more important to Northwest than Delta historically, the airline has adopted it and, for example, features one prominently at its museum in Atlanta.

Prior to the Northwest merger, Delta flew the 747-100 from 1970 to 1976, Fleets Analyzer shows.

Delta will primarily operate the A350 to Asia, with plans to place it on routes to Beijing and Shanghai Pudong from Detroit, as well as Atlanta-Shanghai, by the summer of 2018. It will also fly to Amsterdam from Detroit beginning in March 2018.

The airline has firm orders for 25 A350s with 15 due by 2019.

Source: Cirium Dashboard