Delta Close To Deal To Buy New Airbus A330 And A350 Planes

Back in October I wrote that, while it wasn’t public at the time, Delta was looking to buy Airbus A350-1000 widebody aircraft. It seemed like a deal could be announced soon, but crickets.

Now the story is heating up with attention by major media, with Bloomberg reporting and everyone else following that the airline is looking to purchase both:

  • Airbus A350-1000s
  • Airbus A330neos

Though Delta placed an order for Boeing 737 MAXs, the airline mostly buys Airbus and currently operates about 64 Airbus A330 and 28 A350-900 widebodies, with another 16 of each on order.

The A350-1000 is the largest current Airbus widebody aircraft in production. In its densest form it can seat up to 480 passengers (up from a previous maximum of 440) in a configuration delivered to low cost long haul carrier French Bee. A much more passenger-generous Airbus A350-1000 will be used for Qantas ultra-long haul ‘Project Sunrise’ flights. A total of about 65 A350-1000 aircraft have been delivered out of a total of 150 ordered to date.

While Airbus touts a fuel burn advantage against the Boeing 777-300ER and planned 777-9, it’s a large aircraft that makes sense on dense routes like U.S. – Europe when airports like London Heathrow and Amsterdam have capacity restrictions in place, or seasonally between large markets like New York and Paris, but risk driving down yields substantially to fill in many other uses.

Delta historically has preferred acquiring used planes and keeping those flying with an effective TechOps business, leading to an especially old fleet, they’ve also strategically purchased aircraft at low prices. The airline was primarily a Boeing carrier before their merger with Northwest, so it turns out that the coup in selling A320 family planes to Northwest continues to pay massive dividends.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So new Delta A350 and A330neo will likely supplement or replace A330-200 and 764 on high value routes to Europe and Asia. This leaves A330-200, 764 to fill in the transcon, Hawaii, and secondary Europe routes and allows the 767-300 to be eventually retired. I would still prefer Delta buy some 787 as well, but doesn’t seem in the cards.

  2. It would be nice if Delta introduced a true first class international product on the A350-1000. Gosh it was nice flying AF La Premiere last year for the first time.

  3. The 350 is a very nice aircraft, but it can’t carry a full load of passengers and freight as well as an 330 (and especially a 777) can over the longer routes like JFK and ATL to JNB.

  4. Curious if they are going for the A330-800 for their B763 retirements – it’s a little bigger but it’s the closest thing on the market outside of a B788, which they aren’t looking at right now. Plus you get the type cert commonality with the other A330 fleet.

  5. first, United, not Delta has the oldest fleet in the US and UA also has the oldest and by far most fuel-INEFFICIENT fleet. UA held onto aircraft while AA and UA retired them and UA now has to pay the price.

    Second, the A350-1000 for DL will probably seat about 325-335 passengers, slightly below UA’s 777-300ERs but will offer costs far lower and range much higher. The A350-1000 is the most economical new generation ultra long-range aircraft; only if the 777-8 enters service, does the A350-1000 have any real competition.

    The A330-900 delivers per seat economics as good as or better than the 787-9 but with less range and much lower acquisition costs – because it is a derivate rather than a new body type.

    The A350-900 struggles on some routes because DL operates just 2 of the most capable versions of that model but will receive 18 more in the next 3 years – even before the A350-1000 order. JNB is a major operationally challenging airport – the problems are FROM S. Africa, not the other way around.

    A new widebody order from DL cements DL’s commitment to growing its international network including around the Korean and Latam joint ventures as well as its hubs on the east and west coasts. The A350-1000 will predominantly be used for Asia and Australia.

  6. DL will have a lot of large wide bodies that won’t work well with the MSP, SLC and DTW hubs. It will make LAX, JFK and ATL even more transfer focused going forward. I agree that the 787-8 should have been brought into the fleet but DL is looking for a deal and the 330neo is being sold at a loss since few people are buying them other then DL and bet Airbus is also discounting the A350 if they buy them. If the global economy goes south, this will not be a good strategy. Also DL has no niche aircraft like the XLR so, more issues for them just being a hub to hub without point to point or seasonal options. They will need those 737-10 and A321s to replace the A319 and A320 to transfer folks to their 2 transatlantic and 1 pacific hub (Seattle doesn’t count). I don’t love the strategy personally.

  7. Sunviking, doesn’t Delta use the 350 at DTW more than any other airport? They certainty don’t use them at JFK.

  8. huh?
    The 787-8 like the A330-800 are shrink versions that have much worse economics than their larger siblings, the 787-9 and A330-900.
    There is nothing sacrosanct about flying a high unit cost small airplane when a larger one costs the same to operate on a per trip basis but with much better per seat costs and more revenue generation capacity.
    The same thing applies to the XLR – you (an airline anyway) will pay almost the same pilot costs as a widebody but with much less revenue generating potential. There are valid reasons why DL is siding with the European global airlines in using widebodies only across the oceans while AA and UA think that a plane that will be smaller than the 767-200 (long since removed from service) will work because it has efficient engines.

    and SEA is as much of a transpacific hub as EWR is for UA. DL actually has flights to China from SEA and also has ICN flights; UA doesn’t even do that from EWR.

  9. Any story that involves DL increasing their Airbus buy gets an upvote from me. I’m surprised they ordered any MAXes at all. Even in the old NW days, I would say that Airbus planes are generally a much nicer experience than Boeing.

  10. Delta bought the MAX because they gained the right to overhaul the engines on that model which is worth billions in business from other airlines within years

  11. The TechOps MRO is one of the most lucrative business plans at Delta. Being a Rolls-Royce major overhaul facility and having the largest engine test cell in the world (I think that’s still current), Big D is hedging its bets on the Airbus fleets. Having flown on VS’s new A350-1000, I can see why Delta is expanding the fleet. It is BIG, roomy, very quiet and with a low cabin altitude, passengers arrive with less fatigue. Boeing has managed to work their way to the bottom of the stack, in my humble opinion. They can’t seem to get out from under their own shadow…one dork up after another. Moving their management as far away from manufacturing as possible has screwed them up! Hey, Tim Dunne, I thought that Delta and United were the only operators of the 767-400. I saw a 767-400 belonging to Arab royalty landing in the UK for the coronation.

  12. Oh…one of the biggest pluses for the Airbus is training and maintenance costs. Most Airbus aircraft have such similar characteristics, systems and cockpit layouts that training for upgrades are usually a transition course over a week or so. Commonality of parts and layouts make maintenance easier too. Boeing doesn’t have that…they tried on the 767-400/777 common type rating but the FAA didn’t buy it!

  13. Delta and United are the only airline operators of the 764. There were a few others. On other hands. It is am orphan

    I too have flown Virgin’s 350-1000s and I expect Delta will have a similar configuration. The 339s are supposed to be following VS configuration with about 20 fewer seats and more Premium Select

  14. Boeing dropped the ball with the poor rollout and subsequent issues with the B787 and the MAX fiasco. Therefore, it couldn’t concentrate on the B757/B767 replacements.
    No airlines is going to wait for Boeing to make up its mind while travel volumes skyrocket. Should these volumes plateau or recede in the next few years, there’s plenty of airframes with 20+ years of service that can be retired with minimal impact.
    Boeing missed a prime opportunity…..

  15. Fascinating that most of its closest partners, AF, KL, AM, WS, VS all operate 787s. NW had them on order at the time of the merger, but Delta eventually nixed the order.

  16. NW had some of the earliest 787-8s which were overweight. Delta also realized that the economics of the 787-8 didn’t work then and don’t work now. Delta did consider the 787-9 but the 350/330-900 combo won based on Delta winning the Rolls Royce maintenance contract on Airbus new generation widebodies. If GE gave Delta the contract for 787 engines Delta might might have bit

  17. @Tim Dunn, NWA never accepted any deliveries of the 787 as pointed out on By the time the 787 finally saw deliveries, Delta was in charge of the fleet and instituted a deferment of the order, eventually cancelling it in December 2016. Also: Because there was never a flying example, our best images come from the imaginations of artists and flight-simulator enthusiasts.

  18. Awesome. The A350 is such a more superior passenger to fly in than the plasticy 787.

    Solidifying the quality leadership of the US3, and the revenue premium that comes from it. Good for Delta.

  19. Randy,
    yes, NW never accepted deliveries because of delays and the battery problems.

    DL did not like the economics of the 787-8 and converted the order to what became the 737-900ER order (130+ aircraft)

  20. Tim, you said “NW had some”. That sounds to me like you meant they took delivery of them, which they never did. I’m not sure what else “had” would mean, other than, in possession.

  21. Would be a Huge win for Delta Air Lines if they would proceed and order at least 30 A350-1000’s and 175+ A330-900 ‘s for B757/767 replacements, why they are hesitating I don’t know unless they already have delivery slots are negotiated already, don’t understand the delay in ordering?

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