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  • Joe Breitfeller

Delta Air Lines to Retire Boeing 777 Aircraft by Year’s End in Fleet Simplification

Delta Air Lines announced on Thursday that they will retire their Boeing 777 aircraft by the end on 2020, simplifying their widebody fleet. The carrier will continue to operate next generation Airbus A350-900s on long-haul routes, reducing fuel burn by 21 percent.

Delta to Retire Boeing 777 Fleet by End of 2020 - Courtesy Delta Air Lines

Predictions for the return of air travel demand to the pre-pandemic levels range anywhere from around three to five years, with international demand expected to lag domestic recovery. In this environment, airlines must rethink every aspect of their operation from right-sizing their workforce and fleets to squeezing out costs and inefficiencies wherever possible. Earlier this week, CNBC reported that during a Today Show interview, Boeing’s CEO Dave Calhoun said it was “likely” that a major US carrier would go out of business by year’s end. As startling as that sounds, it isn’t surprising when you consider the fact that major airlines are burning cash at an alarming rate of up to tens of millions of dollars daily. While the U.S. Cares Act has ensured airline workers will remain on the payroll until September 30, 2020, without demand for air travel, the program may only delay the inevitable.

Today, Delta Air Lines announced that they will retire their fleet of 18 Boeing 777 widebody aircraft by the end of 2020 as part of their fleet modernization and simplification strategy. The carrier will continue operating its fleet of next generation Airbus A350-900s, which are expected to deliver a fuel burn savings of 21 percent when compared to the 777s they will replace. Currently, 650 of Delta’s mainline and regional aircraft are grounded and the company announced last month the acceleration of the retirement of their aging McDonnell-Douglas MD-88/90 fleets to June 2020. In Thursday’s announcement, Delta Air Lines’ Chief Operating Officer, Gil West said,

“We’re making strategic, cost-effective changes to our fleet to respond to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic while also ensuring Delta is well-positioned for the recovery on the backside of the crisis. The 777 has been a reliable part of Delta’s success since it joined the fleet in 1999 and because of its unique operating characteristics, opened new non-stop, ultra-long-haul markets that only it could fly at the time.”

Boeing’s 777-200 first entered the Delta fleet in 1999, eventually growing to 18 aircraft, including 10 long-range 777-200LRs, which joined the carrier from 2008. The characteristics of the long-range variant allowed Delta to fly routes such as Atlanta-Johannesburg (South Africa), Los Angeles-Sydney and other ultra-long-haul routes. During the pandemic, Delta’s 777s have been instrumental in international cargo, mail and passenger repatriation operations. The carrier will provide specific details regarding their 777 fleet retirement in the coming weeks and months.

Source: Delta Air Lines