Why Delta canceled a Boeing 787 order

Delta Air Lines operates a diverse fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft. Its long-standing fleet today consists of Airbus A330, A350 and Boeing 767 aircraft. But with the aircraft currently in order, it will move more towards Airbus in the coming years. This, however, could have been very different had he not canceled the order for the Boeing 787 2016 aircraft. This article explores this order and why it failed for Delta.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Delta could have started deliveries of the Boeing 787 in 2020 if it had kept the order. Photo: Getty Images

Northwest Airlines ordered 18,787 aircraft

The first thing to understand about Delta’s 787 order is that it originated from Northwest Airlines. He ordered 18,787 aircraft in 2005.

787 made a lot of sense for the Northwest. It would fit well into the existing fleet and make it a much more efficient replacement for the old Boeing 747 and McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 aircraft. It would also be the first U.S.-based airline to operate the 787; not a bad strategy to focus on the plane with a lot of world attention.

Delta and Northwest merged in 2009. The merger made sense as the two airlines complemented each other in routes and presence. Northwest Airlines was the strongest in the Midwestern United States. The Delta was stronger in the transatlantic and Latin American markets. But they didn’t fit in so well in terms of fleets. The only common type of aircraft between airlines was the 757-200.

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Delta and Northwest merged in 2009. Photo: Getty Images

Order deferral 787

Delta did not immediately cancel order 787 after the merger. It was not clear at the time when the first aircraft would be delivered, nor was the new Delta confident in its strategy for its fleet. It has just emerged from serious financial difficulties (there has been extensive restructuring in Delta since bankruptcy protection in 2005), and a lot of operational change has needed to be directed (including leaving the former hubs in Memphis and Cincinnati).

Delays in the delivery of Boeing served Delta well. In 2010, Delta agreed with Boeing to further delay the delivery of the 787s, which begin in 2020.

Switching to Airbus

However, it did not take long for Delta to begin revising its fleet and forward requirements. When that was the case, Airbus was an early winner. The broad fleet inherited from the Northwest included 21 A330-300 aircraft, and Delta decided to expand it by ordering an additional 10 A330-300 aircraft in 2013. At the same time, it ordered 30 A321 aircraft. This was Airbus ’first order in more than 20 years and marked a major change in fleet plans.

Delta inherited 21 Airbus A330-300s from Northwest Airlines and decided to expand this fleet. Photo: Getty Images

Speaking at the time of issuing this order (and reported by Airbus), Delta President Ed Bastian said:

“Delta is excited to have chosen Airbus to be our partner as we continue to rebuild our fleet. These A330 and A321 aircraft offer a combination of economic efficiency and excellent customer satisfaction, which we experience with the 158 Airbus aircraft currently in our fleet. “

And not long after, he pushed his connection with Airbus further. In 2014, Delta ordered 50 wide-body aircraft, 25 each for the A350-900 and A330-900.

Adhering to Airbus made sense, with its already Airbus fleet. The A330-900 would fit well into the A330-300s, and the A350-900 would continue to replace the Boeing 747 and 777. Its 767-year-old large fleet would also be well inherited by the A330.

Delta Boeing 747
Delta withdrew the 747s by 2017, and the routes switched to the A350. Photo: Getty Images

Cancellation of order 787 in 2016

It wasn’t so much a surprise when the delay turned into a cancellation. It was announced in December 2016. The conditions of cancellation were not announced, but Delta remained with the order for 120 narrow-body aircraft 737-900.

Greg May, Senior Vice President – Supply Chain and Fleet Management, explained at the time:

“Delta is one of the world’s largest aircraft operators, Boeing, and our esteemed partnership with Boeing will remain strong because we serve our customers around the world safely and comfortably on a daily basis. This business decision is in line with Delta’s fleet strategy to prudently respond to our needs for wide-ranging aircraft. “

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The A350 has been available since 2017 and replaces the Boeing 747 and 777. Photo: Getty Images

In reality, adding 787 would add another complex layer to the fleet. Orders with Airbus began to steer a diverse fleet after the merger. Adding 787 would complicate this, especially since it wouldn’t add anything the A350 couldn’t offer.

Fleet simplification

Of course, we have seen further fleet simplification in 2020. As the service continued, Delta announced several retirements. This included the withdrawal of all its Boeing 777s in 2020 (the final flight of the 777 was in late October). This was much earlier than planned, especially since they had just undergone significant and expensive repairs.

There are several benefits to retaining a less diverse fleet. The airline can probably negotiate better prices with larger orders. This also leads to easier operation and lower operating costs. Aircraft maintenance, flight scheduling and crew operations are simpler with a simplified flight. For one of the best examples of this, see Emirates. One of the main reasons the A380 has managed to operate where other airlines have failed is the economics of managing such a large fleet.

What do you think about Delta’s cancellation of order 787 and switching to Airbus? Could that have made the plane work? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.