Delta to Keep 14 of Oldest Narrow-Body Jets on Failed Pilot Vote

Boeing 757

A Boeing 757 cargo jet takes off at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
  • Aging 757s once set for retirement will get cabin upgrades
  • Airline dropped plan to buy 737s after union spurned contract

Delta Air Lines Inc. will hang onto 14 of its aging, workhorse Boeing Co. 757 jets that were to be retired in two years, partly because pilots rejected a proposed contract that would have added new aircraft.

The 757-200s are crucial to Delta’s single-aisle fleet because they can fly between the U.S. and Europe. Once set to be parked by late 2017, the 14 planes now will stay in operation after Delta dropped a tentative purchase of 40 smaller narrow-bodies, spokesman Michael Thomas said. The airline had tied that deal to ratification of the labor accord in July.

“These 14 757s still have plenty of useful life and will receive similar nose-to-tail cabin upgrades as we’ve done on other domestic aircraft,” Thomas said in an interview after Delta briefed pilots in a memo about the change in plans.

Delta’s 757s are among its most-elderly narrow-bodies, averaging 20.4 years old, and they had been due for replacement by new Boeing 737-900ERs in the now-canceled plane order. The airline still has 110 of the 757s in its fleet, according to Thomas, and it has been phasing them out over a number of years.

Retaining the 14 also supports Delta’s practice of flying bigger jets while reducing the number of flights on those routes, Thomas said. Delta’s 757s have 180 seats, according to the airline’s fleet website, outstripping the 149-seat capacity of aging single-aisle models such as its Boeing MD-90s.


Fleet Shuffle

As Delta cuts back on flying inefficient 50-seat planes, it is putting 76-seat jets on those routes. In turn, 110-seat Boeing 717s now fly trips once reserved for the 76-seaters. That progression carries on up the aircraft food chain and creates a need for the 757s, Thomas said.

Eventually, Delta will replace some of the flying done by its 757s with new 737-900ERs already on order from Boeing, although it won’t be on a one-for-one basis, Thomas said.

The 757 is a difficult plane to replace, cheaper to operate than twin-aisle aircraft and able to cruise for eight or more hours, said Bob Mann, a former American Airlines executive who is now an aviation consultant in Port Washington, New York.  Boeing has been weighing development of a midsize jetliner to fill the gap left by the 757, which went out of production a decade ago.

“The 757 is kind of this sweet spot that no one has replicated,” Mann said.

American Airlines Group Inc. has been trimming its 757s in recent years, too, primarily those used domestically, spokeswoman Laura Nedbal said. She said American has cut the fleet from 106 jets to 67 and will redo the remaining ones with new interiors and lie-flat seats for international routes.

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